Churches Australia Churches have been forced to adapt to shutdowns, restrictions, and changes to particulars of each service. At times these restrictions have seemed arbitrary, and particularly punitive towards church goers. As Bishop Anthony Fisher mentioned a few months ago, a bus stopping at St Mary’s had less limits on people than the service inside the Cathedral.
In Melbourne a television program called ‘the Masked Singer’ has been allowed to continue production throughout Stage 4 lock-downs. To add insult to injury – among the large cast and crew there was reportedly a COVID outbreak this week. There are strict 10 people limits for funeral services but the show must go on in far greater numbers.
To be clear, this is not an criticism of lock-down policies in principle. The point is that when arbitrary lines are drawn, religious services consistently fall in the ‘not important’ bucket, while many other more frivolous events are allowed to proceed. While the rules seem to reflect the diminshing importance of Religious life in Australia, there is a highly encouraging silver lining that the Sydney Morning Herald has reported on during the Pandemic.
A survey of over 1000 random Australians found three remarkable insights. 41 per cent of people were thinking about God more, 47 per cent of people were reflecting more on the meaning of life, and 35 per cent of people were praying more.
From personal experience, beginning to pray on a nightly basis can be initially awkward and can feel insincere. There are many ways to pray but what I have found most helpful during this pandemic is to focus on three things – Gratitude, Wisdom, and offering up your suffering with love. Practising gratitude is something that mental health experts have been advocating for years, and religious leaders have been advocating for millennia. Something great in your life that you take for granted is like an unwrapped present and to to scan through all for which you should be thankful, is to finally open the gift.
Wisdom is the second focus. There is a new testament idea that if you knock the door will open, and if you ask you shall receive. But I don’t think one should necessarily ask for wishes or personal favours, because you could never know if you need this favour or just want it. Far better is to ask for something that is at the same time harder to achieve, and more possible, and that is the courage to identify the things you are doing that drag you down and the wisdom to change those things towards a better course.
The final focus is Suffering. When Jesus suffered on the Cross he revealed that there is no such concept of needless suffering. All suffering is a participation in the ultimate sacrifice of God for his Children. It’s for this reason that Catholics are so opposed to Euthanasia, which unavoidably contends that the only purpose of life is pleasure, and when that pleasure is no longer possible it is humane to end that life immediately. The concept is also inherently selfish, and subtly or not, is traumatic for loved ones. The person they new to be strong and vibrant and filled with love, who built memories and great works in their life, have been defeated by suffering. How does this prepare their loved ones – who all know they will at some point meet mortal suffering? When we pray, all the suffering that we have endured can be offered up to the world, and in time we can prepare ourselves for all the great suffering we will endure and meet it with nothing but courage and love.
It is clear that for many this pandemic has been a remembrance of mortality that cannot be distracted away during this time. It is the silver lining of this pandemic that Memento Mori en masse could be a great chance for a Australian’s to reprioritize their lives. to direct them more towards God, and their community, and to make life more meaningful on the other side of this pandemic.