Light after Darkness

The bronze cross by David Kocka  is based on one of Thomas Merton’s calligraphies.

Light after Darkness

Chris McDonnell
CT April 17th 2020

It has been different this year.
We didn’t gather in church to remember the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, nor watch late into that Gethsemani night. Good Friday only offered empty pews, a silent space and loneliness. There was no new fire kindled out of doors on Holy Saturday evening, no paschal candle light carried in to a darkened church, no voices of a choir singing ‘Lumen Christi’as flickering lights gradually spread from hand to hand in joyful celebration.

No, this year it was indeed different. And when you lose something, then you realize its value. Maybe we would do well to reflect on our community loss of a shared Eucharist and come to appreciate the broken body of Christ that is offered to us as we gather together round the table of the Lord.

One of the most poignant images of recent weeks came from an empty, rain-swept, St Peter’s piazza where, on March 27th, a solitary Francis gave his blessing ‘Urbi et Orbi’ – for the City and the World.

In his opening words he faced our difficulty full on.

“For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.”

Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.

In the gospel image of the fishermen, fearful of the storm, it is easy to recognize ourselves, hesitant and uncertain. How do we cope with the world-wide storm that is threatening to engulf us, country after country, rich and poor alike? The reproaching words of Jesus must have seemed fragile when he questioned those experienced boatmen- “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

Francis went on to remind us that

“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our pre-packaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”

That is why the consequent life in faith of our Christian community will be fundamentally altered by our current experience.
We might resume familiar patterns but we will come to them as changed people. The shock of the new will be unavoidable. Faith will have been tested by experience and the well-worn path we have happily followed will be lost in the stones and bushes of the hedge-row. The real challenge will be to maintain our experience of inter-dependence, the realization that there is such a thing as Society, that we need each other, as do sheep.

Shorn sheep gather round the metal feeding
in the lower field,  beyond the slatted wooden
carelessly rubbing shoulders under sullen

One with another, under no restrictions,  they
for nourishment, face down in time of lambing, the casual
of expectant red-numbered

 They bah and bleat all through these middle
morning hours
content in company, following the flock, one
by one by three,
black faced, gazing listless eyes search
a grassed field.

 In empty streets a scattering of occasional
forlorn faces
where memory lingers of the passing,
dreaming drift
of a woman’s scent or the hovering haze of
tobacco smoke.

 After all this is done and gone,
will it come again?
Or will our envy of a flock of sheep

There is always uncertainty in our lives, the unexpected happens and there is a twist in the path. Lennon’s words come back to haunt us –“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” .
Each day brings another cancellation or postponement, a further rise in casualties, another emergency hospital erected on unusual ground. Hard enough for adults to manage, but especially so for children whose whole world is in turmoil. They need our support and example and more than the occasional hug.

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  1. John Kirwin says:

    Please give the source/author of ‘Shorn sheep . .

  2. Chris McDonnell says:

    John @1
    My own words John

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