“It’s strange and just depressing,” lamented the sacristan of Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral as he stood on the sanctuary, gazing into the empty nave. On any given Sunday, some 2,000 worshippers pack into the pews of the Minor Basilica to attend the 10:30am Solemn Mass. Thousands more – tourists and Sydneysiders alike – usually stream in; some to admire the Cathedral’s illuminating stained glass and its imposing neo-Gothic structure, others in search of solace. But on a day when Catholics in Australia should have been rejoicing at the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the nation’s first state-sanctioned priests, the Mother Church of Australia remained vacant with doors locked, surreal and still.
This, of course, has been the case for some weeks now. Desperate times call for desperate measures, the adage goes. And so, as the number of coronavirus cases in Australia began to spike, doubling every second day, the Australian Government, acted swiftly, mandating that churches temporarily close from 12 noon on Monday March 23. Some scrambled to get to early morning Mass before the ban came into effect, many others were forced to go without, unsure of when they would get access to the Sacraments once again. As for me, a cradle Catholic, the thought of having to skip Sunday mass for the first time in my life was strange, depressing even.
In times of great uncertainty, the natural response is to want to regain control, a manifestation of some form of Pelagianism. And when that fails, we lose hope, we fall into profound despair and allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. The supernatural response though, as Pope Francis so beautifully pointed out in his Extraordinary Urbi et Orbi, is that of trust and to embrace the Cross which means “finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring”.
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