We’re just about halfway through 2021 but, for many of us, the passage of time has been warped by the rigors of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last May, we invited three friends of Faith Connections to return for a Special Edition Theology on Tap. Though a bit rough around the tech-edges as our second virtual event, it was a much needed, deep conversation about living faithfully. These three speakers in particular were invited back as each of them had previously delivered a talk on different aspects of faith life that were suddenly challenged with the onset of the pandemic.
In general, Theology on Tap events are meant to be opportunities for “discover[ing] how faith can give sense to [our] everyday lives”. May 2020’s “The Art of Listening to God in a Wounded World” came together in a truly incredible way, given the panelists hadn’t met until a few minutes before the program. Through the year since, and in the midst of so much ongoing anguish and uncertainty, we wanted to check in with them and invite them to share their thoughts on the last year and moving forward.
“This year has invited us to think and re-think about who we are, whose we are, and how we are with one another. Yet the world is still wounded, fractured by not only the virus and variants but also by our temptation towards apathy to one another, whether between nations reigniting conflict or apathy towards our neighbour on our streets, with more falling victim through as social nets and networks continue to be stretched thin” reflects Fr. Santo Arrigo, C.Ss.R. He adds “[w]e have marked the year with hope as we have seen the virus begin to come under control through tough restrictions and the distribution of vaccines. We also saw during this year the publication of the encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” by Pope Francis. It is a reflection and instruction on how we are called as a human community to reshape our world, and the systems of our world, by refocusing our gaze upon the gift of humanity; to not just see ourselves as neighbours but as brothers and sisters to one another, giving us a whole new perspective on how we are to be neighbour to one another.”
Fr. Kevin Kelly, SJ, echoes these thoughts, sharing that “[p]raying for the grace of building hope during these challenging times continues to be a key focus in my own prayer and is what I suggest most often to those with whom I work and accompany. While hope is a gift from God, like any virtue, we must also work at it to make "being hopeful" a habit. This means being aware of needing it, asking God to receive it, searching for it in our lives and in the world around us, and sharing it with others.” Reflecting on one of Pope Francis’ General Audiences, Fr. Kevin notes “[o]ne of the best ways to find hope is to remember to be grateful. While it may be harder to see things for which we are grateful these days, just naming things, even small things, and sharing them with others, helps gratitude and hope to grow.”
For those of us still experiencing stringent lockdown regulations and/or working in front-line environments, from hospital staff to shipping processors or isolation centre workers to grocery store clerks, the fatigue and weariness is real. We can find ourselves dwelling on the past, whether they be happy or sad memories, instead of staying present and hopeful in a good way.
Fr. Santo notes “[a] year has past, and things will change and return to normal. As we have read at different times this year, “should things return to normal”? What is the opportunity for us to be a better neighbour as we recover from this pandemic?
Similarly, Fr. Kevin reminds us “that the greatest enemy of our hope is not outside of us, but in us. The Pope encourages us to not "make room for bitter or dark thoughts". He tells us to constantly work to identify these thoughts and choose to let them go from our minds. [He] tells us to "believe in the existence of the most noble and beautiful truths". In our post-truth society, truth seems to lie on a continuum. We must look for truths that are built on solid foundations. The teachings of the Catholic Church are a great place to start.
Fr. Santo adds “[it] is up to US to bring hope in everyday opportunities and make a “new normal”, a better normal for all of humanity, inspired by faith and the example of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.”
The art of listening to God in a wounded world continues to be one that requires regular practice, discipline, and persistence. More importantly, it’s gentle. Living faithfully, especially at this time, challenges us to be kind to ourselves as we extend kindness to others. It allows us moments of respite and clarity though we may feel unfocused or fretful. Whether for a single minute or an hour a day, our performance of this art has no final curtain call; we return to the stage at any moment, to the joyful applause of our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit.
Sabrina Chiefari is the Interim Program Director for Faith Connections, the Young Adult Ministry for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.