As cases of Coronavirus rose across England and Wales and strict pandemic restrictions prevented families from gathering for Christmas, Cardinal Vincent Nichols assured Catholics live streaming his “Mass in the Night” that “knowing the darkness helps us to appreciate the light”.
In a homily delivered during a Pontifical Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Christmas Eve, without a congregation but live streamed, the Cardinal dealt movingly with the darkness of the pandemic year, a time when some have “faded away from sheer loneliness”.
He called on society to “build back better” after the pandemic, in remarks that were reminiscent of Pope Francis’ recent calls for new communities to form founded on social justice.
The Cardinal drew attention to the many acts of selflessness and kindness that characterised society’s response to the virus. These, he said, could function as “signposts” to direct humanity towards a brighter future.
Speaking as families around the country were prevented from gathering to celebrate Christmas by Covid restrictions, or chose not to because of concerns for vulnerable people, Cardinal Nichols said: “Here we are, celebrating Christmas, yet deprived of the greetings, hugs, kisses and handshakes that normally fill this day.
“We are living in a time in which the loneliness that some always feel at Christmas is painfully touching so many. Family bonds are being tested by these restrictions; those in hospital and care homes long to see their loved ones, with a pain that cannot be eased. Some, I believe, fade away from sheer loneliness. The darkness is deep.”
Nevertheless, he said, the quiet heroism and community efforts of many in society were cause for hope.
“In our nature, in our make-up, there is an indomitable spirit of goodness that responds with sacrifice and love. It is the spark of the divine within us, the sense of a life in essence never private but shared with others, with the whole of creation.
“This spark is fully revealed in the person of Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, born in poverty so that all may approach him,” he said.
The global community faces a time of crisis, he observed. “And a crisis is a crossroads in which we face choices about which way to go, about what to do next. At a crossroad we look for the signposts, the indications about the road to take.”
He called on Catholics to help set up signposts, “clearly and unambiguously”, that signal the kind of society that could emerge from this period of darkness.
Echoing Pope Francis, he described the challenges of economic recovery, of building a deeper sense of mutual responsibility between nations and states, “not least in the distribution of vaccines to the poorest”.
“But tonight I think more of the domestic and local signposts we want to erect,” he said. “Can we not build back better? Surely we can create a more kind culture, a daily discourse of respect towards those with whom we disagree, a practice of compassionate standing together in times of stress and hardship, a deeper empathy for the suffering of others.
“These we have seen bud in the months of hardship. These are the roads we want to take, roads on which we overcome divisions of colour and class, taking us beyond the division of wealth and well-being.
“Let us set up those signposts at this crossroads of our history, knowing that the light came into the world this night is given so that we can know the truth, the goodness and the beauty by which to shape our future. It is in the person of the Christ-child, God in our flesh, that we find our road of life, the ending of our fears and the fulfilment of our hopes.”