In his homily preached at a Mass for the sick, their families, care workers and NHS staff, Bishop Marcus Stock has paid tribute to all those working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by COVID-19.
Speaking in Leeds Cathedral on 7 May 2020, Bishop Stock talked about how, when faced with this ‘storm of fear’ and the ‘sadness of death’, the Lord gives us a message of reassurance and hope. He also points out that the many public testimonies given by those who have been cared for by NHS staff, healthcare workers and carers has re-new our appreciation of the healthcare system and those working in it.
“We have heard accounts of dedication, heroism and selflessness. The proper value which should be given to the vital work done by all these carers has often been overlooked. Thankfully, this is now changing. The public recognition and appreciation of their work will again be expressed at 8pm tonight [Clap for Carers], when we offer a prayer of gratitude to God and applaud the men and women who, at risk to their own health, are caring for our families and all the members of our communities.”
Over the past weeks, all of us will have been deeply distressed listening to the news of the deaths of so many people in our own country and around the world. Many of you taking part in this Mass this evening will have been affected personally by those deaths and will be mourning for loved ones, friends, work colleagues orthose whose lives you have tried to save.
This time of pandemic has brought so much fear into our world, not only the fear felt by those who are sick and dying but the fear which many people will have about what lies ahead; fearful for their children and elderly relatives, fearful for their families, fearful of losing their livelihoods, their financial security and all the hopes they have for their future.
This is a storm of fear which, like the one we heard about in the Gospel, is breaking into our world and causes us too to cry out in fear and alarm. As Pope Francis said at the end of March, in that extraordinary moment of prayer in St Peter’s Square, “We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are going down”, so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we make this journey”.
In the midst of this storm of fear and the sadness of death comes a message of reassurance and of hope. For many of us, that message is found in our religious faith, in our trust in the Lord who commands the storm to cease. But that message of hope is also in the presence of God wherever acts of loving kindness are found; it is in the acts of generosity, service and self-sacrifice performed daily by our healthcare staff, carers, and the countless citizens who are working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by the Covid-19 coronavirus and to support all who are in need because of it.
The battering which this storm has given our society has reminded us of the role played by our healthcare system, by our healthcare workers and by all who care for the elderly and for those with special needs. During this pandemic, we have recognised that whilst healthcare is a public service, we have learnt to appreciate that it is also so much more. The care we give to the sick and the priority we give to the needs of the elderly and infirm is an expression of the values we hold as a people and as a nation, it mirrors the value and dignity we give to human life.
In recent weeks, many public testimonies have been given by those who have been cared for by our NHS staff, our healthcare workers and carers; we have heard accounts of dedication, heroism and selflessness. The proper value which should be given to the vital work done by all these carers has often been overlooked. Thankfully, this is now changing. The public recognition and appreciation of their work will again be expressed at 8pm tonight, when we offer a prayer of gratitude to God and applaud the men and women who, at risk to their own health, are caring for our families and all the members of our communities.
Clinical treatments and procedures, nursing support and medicines can all help to heal the physical and psychological ills which afflict our human bodies; and for this we need the professional skills of those who provide these services. But it is human kindness, compassion and tender care which have the power to heal the fear and isolation which so often accompanies our sickness and infirmity, especially now; and for this we need generous hearts. This greatness of soul is the measure of the health of our humanity; it is what gives us hope for the future, it is what we thank God for and applaud tonight.
Death has never been God’s plan for his children. Through the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, God our Father destroys the power of death and delivers us from the fear of death. This is the good news we heard St Paul cry out in our first reading, “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is with confidence in this love of God, a love that drives away fear and calms all storms, that we offer this Sacrifice of the Mass, for the intentions of those who are sick, all those who care for them, and for our healthcare workers. I would like to conclude my homily with these words of St Frances de Sales which I believe express our hopes and prayers this evening:
Do not look forward with dread and fear to the trials and crosses of this life; rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God, to whom you belong will in His love enable you to gain by them. He has guided and guarded you thus far in life. Hold fast to his dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all trials. Whenever you cannot stand, he will carry you lovingly in his arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
May the Lord bless us and keep us safe in his love. Amen.
Bishop of Leeds