We approach the highpoint of the Church’s year yet seem encircled by anxiety. Two years of a pandemic which, at certain points, was the source of widespread alarm and fear among the population has been bad enough. And now, emerging from what we hope to be the end of the pandemic, we are confronted by a brutal war raging on our own continent and by the dreadful possibilities which that war brings for a dramatic escalation of violence between the world’s superpowers.
We also know that many of our young people are increasingly anxious in their behaviour and in thought processes. Some have even reported peer pressure to exhibit signs of anxiety where none hitherto existed, and that failure to do so risks social exclusion.
So, faced with this seeming avalanche of anxiety in our world, and it potentially worsening over time as the younger generation come to maturity, what are Christians to make of it and how should we respond to it?
WH Auden’s poem ‘The Age of Anxiety’ sets the scene in stark terms:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play . . .
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
The poem explores a theme of being lost in an industrialised secular world with hints of what a better, Christian world might look like. A train crossing the Manhattan bridge at sunrise is used as a metaphor for the Resurrection. It does not make for easy reading, but our Lenten journey requires us to challenge ourselves, to ask ourselves difficult questions and to find ourselves anew in the conclusions we draw.
Psalm 27 provides us with a more familiar starting point:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
We know these inspired words to be God’s revealed truth, but how might we respond when tested by crisis and what our faith demands of us? Far from a straightforward question, it means awareness of our frailties and what we need for steadfastness in the moment. Crucially, we know that we cannot rely on our own strength alone and that knowledge is key to freeing us from anxieties and burdens.
Further, we can use the example of others to help us find that strength. St Maximilian Kolbe is one such example; a saint of our times who displayed a level of courage and selflessness almost beyond human imagination in the face of the horrors of Nazism. As the terrors of the Russian incursion into Ukraine unfold, we can turn to St Maximilian:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who said, ‘greater love than this no man has that a man lay down his life for his friends,’ through the intercession of St Maximilian Kolbe whose life illustrated such love, we beseech you to grant us our petitions.
The forthcoming celebration of the Triduum is at the very heart of our faith; indeed it encapsulates our faith and expresses its essentials with a profundity which is both moving and compelling. We inevitably have a degree of anxiety in our day-to-day lives but at the same time we acknowledge through the liturgies of the Triduum that we are being called out of that state to something better, something deeper, something more lasting and fulfilling.
This year we shall be taking our brothers and sisters from Ukraine with us to those great acts of love: to the Altar of Repose, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Proclamation of the Exsultet:
Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honour of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night.
I wish you a prayerful Holy Week and a joyful Eastertide.