By Kathleen McGarvey OLA

A prayer that is with me a lot these days is the prayer used by the AA: Lord, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and, the Wisdom to know the difference’.

With the advent of COVID-19 and the necessity of lockdown, my too busy life seemed to come to a very abrupt halt. Yes, I am still alive, thank God, and in many ways, through this imposed halt, what I might call enforced retreat, I am more alive to both the fragility and the beauty of life around me than I was when in my customary fifth gear.

My 2020 calendar, which was full to overflowing until at least the end of July, was suddenly, almost overnight, deemed irrelevant. Everything, every trip, every meeting, every conference, was put on hold – either to be postponed to a later date, or simply cancelled. Suddenly none of it was absolutely important or urgent. There was now the anxiety of the real threat that coronavirus brings and what it could inflict on our vulnerable community of elderly and infirm Sisters as well as on my family, friends and indeed humanity at large, in terms of life and death as well as economically and socially. There was also the difficulty of adapting to a whole new mode in which I could no longer function, as I usually do, on the adrenalin of pressure and obligations. What was now important was to stay safe and well and do whatever little was in my power to ensure those around me were safe and well. The most I could do to ensure others were safe and well was very simply stay at home. The most constructive way I could use my time was to be still and pray! And indeed, it makes me ask, is there any better way I could ever use my time? Truly, I am not in control and it is good to have been reminded of it and to have been given the grace of Serenity to accept this fact.

I also pray for Courage to change the things I can. As a missionary and a Religious, one who heard God’s call to give my life to be a sign and instrument of God’s Reign of Peace and Justice, it is sobering to hear that right now I am not ‘essential’! However, it is simultaneously challenging to realise that there may be something I am called to offer to others at this time, and to find new ways of offering it, which demand Courage. To know what it is I cannot change and to know what and how I can offer to make this world a more peaceful place for others at this time, require Wisdom, and I pray for both Courage and Wisdom.

In the OLA community here in Ardfoyle, which is home to many of our elderly and infirm Sisters, the community daily routine has changed to ensure greater social distancing. No longer is daily mass celebrated here, prayers are mostly now prayed in private, office staff work from home, the Infirmary is isolated to only the infirm and nursing staff, elderly Sisters remain in their rooms as much as possible. However, we are blessed in so many ways which oftentimes, in the busyness of life, I have taken for granted. So far Coronavirus has not entered our home, thank God. We have the community chapel with the Blessed sacrament always present where we can go for private prayer and contemplation. We have a spacious house where it is not too difficult for people to be able to self-isolate. We have beautiful gardens where even those who must cocoon still have the opportunity to sit or walk and admire nature in its bounty. We value the efforts of television, radio, parishes and monasteries to provide online masses and liturgies and are grateful we have good access to them. We also have generous, kind, hardworking, committed staff who today we recognise for the great and ‘essential’ blessing they are to us. Nurses, Carers, Cooks, Cleaners, Laundry workers, Receptionists, Maintenance… Each day, in these uncertain times, our staff leave their homes to come and cater for all our needs, making every sacrifice and taking every precaution so that they don’t bring the virus here or bring it back to their loved ones. They, like so many of the essential workers in Ireland today are keeping us all alive and well, ensuring all necessary services continue to be provided. They are a Blessing, and today more than ever we appreciate their courage, their generosity, their goodness. 

There is a sense of Two Tales that are very much interconnected right now, which we are all living in and experiencing simultaneously to one degree or the other, that is the Joy and the Suffering, Peace and Conflict, almost like Heaven and Hell. The Heaven of having time to enjoy the peace and quiet, to hear the birds sing, to notice the flowers and trees and beauty of nature, to not have to rush. The Hell of those contacted by the virus, not being able to visit relatives and friends in hospitals or nursing homes or those home alone, not being able to grieve the parting of loved ones in a funeral or even attend a wake-keeping, hearing news each day of new deaths, concern about what tomorrow might bring, worry about Sisters and friends in Africa who run health care centres knowing they will not have adequate equipment if the virus spreads more rapidly there, learning of many people suffering increased hunger and poverty at this time of lockdown… There is a sense of wishing to be able to do more and a sense of enjoying the time to just be.

As Pope Francis reminded us on Easter Sunday, this pandemic is like a storm which has laid bare any illusions of self-sufficiency. It reminds us that all humanity and indeed all creation is in the same boat, all fragile and disorientated, all important and needed, needing each other, called to row together as one human and one created family. He said it is a time for us to “choose what matters and what passes away, to separate what is necessary from what is not”.  There is no doubt that this pandemic has changed our world and our lives. Whenever we move out of this crisis, and please God, a vaccine will be found and the virus can be beaten, we will hopefully not return to life as it was. Hopefully, as individuals as well as our world leaders, we will have learnt to appreciate our interdependence, value nature, move together in a more respectful, serene and harmonious rhythm of life.

As OLA Sisters globally, many of our members are very much on the frontline, involved with very vulnerable people and offering health and pastoral care, particularly in Africa.  Ensuring care of our elderly and infirm Sisters is a priority in most of our European provinces. Through our prayer we hold close all those who suffer and all those on the frontlines. Through our Communications desk, with today’s increasing reliance on the social media, we seek to offer messages of solidarity and hope. Through our Justice desk we continue to advocate on issues such as debt awareness and climate justice which are particularly important in these times. We also ensure financial help donated by our benefactors reaches people who are suffering increased poverty due to the virus and the lockdown in some of our African communities.

We know God is walking this journey with us and we pray to be open to the graces that come from this time of pain and of retreat. May God enable us to live this time with faith and to be instruments of God’s Peace and Justice during these days in whatever way we can. Indeed, Lord, grant us the Serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the Courage to change the things we can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.