Being in the red Covid Protection Framework setting involves a lot of waiting. We wait for many things, such as the daily case numbers. We have waited for an end to the protest at Parliament over vaccine mandates. We wait to see loved ones return from overseas. We wait to move back to “orange”, or even “green”.
As Catholics, not least among the things waited for is being able to celebrate the Eucharist as full parishes again, with no restrictions on numbers, and with signs that mean what they say – all are welcome in this place.
This season of waiting is a bit like another Advent – which is also a season of expectant waiting. But, unlike Advent, when we know how many days there are until Christmas, now we don’t know how long it will be until we can have fully functioning parishes again. We hope it will not be long. We pray it will not be long.
In such times, when people are dispensed from attending Sunday Mass, and many do not do so, there is a danger of a spiritual malaise creeping in.
Pope Francis reminded those at his Angelus prayer on the first Sunday of Advent in the new liturgical year that the answer lies in vigilance. As Jesus said in Luke 21 – “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy . . . Be vigilant at all times and pray”.
Francis said that Christ’s words “show that vigilance is tied to alertness: be alert, do not get distracted, that is, stay awake! Vigilance means this: not to allow our hearts to become lazy or our spiritual life to soften into mediocrity. Be careful because we can become ‘sleepy Christians’ – and we know there are many Christians who are asleep, who are anesthetised by spiritual worldliness – Christians without spiritual fervour, without intensity in prayer, without enthusiasm for mission, without passion for the Gospel; Christians who always look inwards, incapable of looking to the horizon. And this leads to ‘dozing off’: to move things along by inertia, to fall into apathy, indifferent to everything except what is comfortable for us. This is a sad life going forward this way since there is no happiness”.
Francis described apathy as “a great enemy of the spiritual life and also of Christian life”.
“Apathy is a type of laziness that makes us slide into sadness, it takes away zest for life and the will to do things. It is a negative spirit that traps the soul in apathy, robbing it of its joy. It starts with sadness, sliding downwards so that there is no joy.”
The Pope encouraged people to pray, because “prayer is what keeps the lamp of the heart lit. This is especially true when we feel that our enthusiasm has cooled down. Prayer re-lights it, because it brings us back to God, to the centre of things. Prayer reawakens the soul from sleep and focuses it on what matters, on the purpose of existence”.
In the same talk, Francis mentioned another issue that is prevalent today – fear. Jesus did not promise that everything would be OK, that bleak and distressing times and events would not happen. But Jesus told people not to be afraid. The reason is not that trials and tribulations would vanish – but rather that Jesus will come again, as he promised.
Francis suggested a simple phrase to repeat often during Advent times. It would also be useful in our time of waiting now. It is “Come, Lord Jesus.” Francis suggested repeating it over and over. We could make saying this a habit, over and over, at a time when our gathering as parish communities is limited. We could say it in our cars, we could say it in our homes, we could say it at the shops, we could say it at our beaches, we could say it pretty much anywhere. “Come, Lord Jesus.” “Come, Lord Jesus.” “Come, Lord Jesus.” Or if we want to use one word only “Maranatha”. Francis called it a “prayer of the heart”. Let us lift up our hearts – to the Lord.