We must find a new road.

We must find a new road.

Matthew ends his story of the Epiphany with the powerful image of the Magi, taking seriously the warning they had received, deciding to return home by a different road. With our Epiphany celebrations concluded, we too find ourselves being warned about the potential calamity we face in this present health emergency if we do not change course.  

Like the Magi, the Church has found it necessary to take a different road to arrive at the same destination – a deep union with the Father through Christ, in the Spirit. The closure of churches has in a surprising way revealed to us new ways of celebrating and living out our Catholic faith, contributing to the common good of all.  Thanks to social media we have had live-streamed Masses and prayer meetings, online group meetings, and family chat rooms.  In my own parish in South Lanarkshire in the diocese of Motherwell, I know this has led many to a deeper experience of God-in-Christ.   

Paradoxically, the physical separation from the church building and from family and community has opened up for many new ways of prayer and contemplation, together with a deeper sense of union and communion. Our reliance on others, the readiness to greet and help strangers, the appreciation of the little things, the wonder at the beauty of nature, the solitude and silence of the daily walk – these are small examples of the newness to which we have been exposed and of which Pope Francis constantly reminds us. 

With the Magi, we feel that things can never be quite the same again, nor should they be; that an end has happened and we are on the cusp of something new. There is a feeling that “to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” (T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding).  

(The writer continues)

God is not bound by the sacraments. There have always been Catholics unable to access the sacraments due to persecution, a shortage of priests, or for other reasons.  (We may wish) to return as quickly as possible to how things were before the pandemic. The rush to try to restore the “old normal” risks suffocating the new opportunities that are emerging for Catholics in their spiritual journey, their experience of Church, and their Christian living. 

In the long Holy Saturday we have found ourselves in over these months, still shrouded in darkness and unknowing, we are preparing to start afresh. We are doing so not alone but with Christ at our side, alongside our fellow Catholics and fellow citizens, waiting, expecting, with trust and hope. We have discovered that we are being offered in so many different ways that root eucharistic experience of a personal encounter with God in Christ. Although we have been unable to access the sacraments, the Real Presence of the Lord never abandoned us. 

The new bonds of solidarity and communion we are experiencing with each other, priests and laymen and women, the whole people of God and the wider society, have given us some inkling of what synodality, of being “on the road together”, central to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church, looks and tastes like. It is this synodality that will offer a broader space and horizon for laity, priests, and bishops to discern together the new road we must find. 

Like the Magi, if we find the courage and wisdom not to rush to return home by the same route we came, we will more surely feel the pulse of the Holy Spirit within and among us, be opened up to divine epiphany, and be filled constantly with worship and adoration of the Lord.

From an article in The Tablet (16 January 2021) by Thomas Magill, parish priest of St Athanasius’, Carluke, Vicar Episcopal for Mission and Evangelisation in the Diocese of Motherwell.


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