Holy Week invites us to lift up our hearts in hope – Bishop Brendan Leahy

In today’s Irish Times newspaper, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick is reflecting on a second Holy Week in lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. Bishop Leahy reflects on the meaning of Holy Week and how,  in the midst of the Covid pandemic, it offers us a sounding board, a time to take stock, a space to touch base with our harsh reality. Before the solitary figure of the Crucified One on the Cross, we come face to face with ourselves and our world, our fragility, division and woundedness.

Bishop Leahy writes:

This time last year, Covid-19 entered our world like a bolt. As I concluded a packed Confirmation ceremony I was told new restrictions were coming into effect that afternoon at six o’clock. The ceremony planned for the following day was abruptly gone.

A few days later, I heard news that a friend with no underlying health condition was in hospital battling for his life against a virus stealthily dominating our world.

A crisis had struck. And yet, initially, along with beautiful weather, a certain optimism reigned. It wouldn’t last long we hoped. Inspirational apps with images and thoughts, like the poem Lockdown by the Capuchin Franciscan-priest Br Richard Hendrick, kept us going:

“All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting; All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way; All over the world people are waking up to a new reality . . . To how big we really are. To how little control we really have. To what really matters. To Love.”

But the harshness of the Covid world didn’t go away. It stayed. And we’ve endured so many variations. Promises hoped for, promises dashed. On the island of Ireland, with over 350,000 confirmed cases and the death toll approaching 7,000, it has been a year of hard realities.

We find ourselves, for the second Easter, with schedules and prospects in disarray. And, with that, the frayed nerves and weariness of a people indentured to a pandemic that is refusing to release us.

Ours is something of the experience of the people of Israel in exile crying out: “Watchman, what is left of the night?” We are in a prayer of waiting and hoping. It’s a Covid cry. Holy Week meets that cry. And not just our Covid cry but the pain of relationship breakdown, social and economic divisions, wounded histories, environmental destruction.

Holy Week offers a sounding board, a time to take stock, a space to touch base with our harsh reality. Before the solitary figure of the Crucified One on the Cross, we come face to face with ourselves and our world, our fragility, division and woundedness. Think of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

Optimism is cheerful. Facing reality is healthy. But hope is essential. The hope coming as a life lived in view of the dawn of Resurrection. As Pope Francis puts it: “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force.”

And again, “Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history.”

Holy Week moving into Easter is a yearly invitation to lift up our hearts and keep on hoping against hope, contemplating in hope whatever signs of the resurrection we find around us, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. We each have our own resurrection world opening up in, through and around us.

I’m thinking of my friend who ended up spending 71 days in hospital and rehab, 32 of them on a ventilator. His wife wrote to him every day, with the nurses reading him her letters. He explained later that, though asleep, he was aware of having the letters read to him. Love conquered beyond restrictions. His wife commented on how neighbours became family. Love beyond isolation found ways to extend family.

I’m thinking too of the experience of Doha Sabah Abdallah shared with Pope Francis during his recent visit to Iraq. An Islamic State (Isis) attack killed her son, his cousin and a young man about to be married. Yet, in all her grief she could say there was a purpose.

Their martyrdom was like an alarm bell for the people of Qaraqosh who would have remained and inevitably fallen into the hands of Isis. The martyrdom of the three saved the whole city. Doha told the pope it was her faith in the Resurrection, the source of hope, that gave her strength even to forgive the aggressors.

The Covid aggressor is still with us this Easter. And though it is still night, morning is coming. Hope saves. Let us look out for the seeds of the new world being born out of Covid.

Bishop Brendan Leahy is Catholic Bishop of Limerick and co-chair of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting.

This article was published in the ‘Rite and Reason’ column in the Irish Times of 30 March 2021.

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