By BILL CLARKE | Published May 20, 2020
“When you walk through a storm
Hold your chin up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark. …
Walk on, walk on,
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone.”
~Rodgers & Hammerstein, from “Carousel”
Dear fellow seniors, when I was a boy in the WWII era, the world experienced a great amount of anxiety, fear and uncertainty about the future. When would the war end? Would the axis powers prevail? Would there be a tomorrow for the younger generation? It was perhaps the greatest global crisis in modern history.
The war did end. The GIs did come home and they became the foundation for the Baby Boomer generation, the largest generation in the history of the U.S. The world went from crisis to prosperity.
Looking back on past crises, we seniors can say that we have lived through the best of times and worst of times. Along the way we have accumulated a vast amount of experience which for many culminates in wisdom, which we also know to be a gift of the Holy Spirit.
But, there is another gift and strength that relates strongly to our experience and that is the theological virtue of hope. Over the decades we have learned to maintain the perspective knowing that hope is the one virtue we can pray for in times of need and to be thankful for in times of plenty.
We have been experiencing one of the most difficult crises in our lifetime with the COVID-19 pandemic. It too will eventually pass but praise be to God that seniors everywhere have played a major role in helping to combat this threat.
In the midst of the current pandemic, many people around the world, including some seniors, began to wonder if hope was the answer. Our mental and psychological well-being was being tested. We longed to return to normal. The shelter-in-place and the new normal was taking a toll. We desperately were seeking a calming, compassionate voice. Into the void from the beginning and throughout the crisis came our spiritual leader, a fellow senior, Pope Francis.
Of the many things he did and continues to do, there are two specific responses that stand out in my mind. The first was the granting of the possibility of a plenary indulgence for all those who participated in the special prayer service on March 27 or who participated in prayers for an end to the coronavirus in other prescribed ways.
This extraordinary moment of prayer was watched by more than ten million people. It was an extremely emotional event. The Pope walked haltingly across St. Peter’s Square, alone in fading light as the rain poured down, without even an umbrella. After entering the basilica, he lifted the Blessed Sacrament and, with some difficulty holding the weight of the monstrance, gave the blessing. This special papal blessing (Urbi et Orbi, “to the city and to the world”) is usually reserved for Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and for the first blessing from a newly elected pontiff.
By way of review, a plenary indulgence is the remission of one’s entire temporal punishment for sin, which can be received for the benefit of one’s own soul or offered for the soul of a faithful departed in Purgatory. The church places three conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the Pope’s intentions, with a spirit of detachment from all sin. The opportunity to receive this special plenary indulgence is still available during this time of COVID-19.
Pope Francis likened the pandemic to the biblical passage when Jesus and the Apostles are in a boat at sea, when a violent storm threatens their survival. Jesus is sleeping, and the Apostles, annoyed, wake him. He tells them not to worry—to just have faith. Pope Francis then says, “Now we, too, are in a storm, but we are all truly in the same boat, and God is with us.”
The second significant highlight of his enduring leadership during this crisis was his Easter Vigil homily on Holy Saturday. He spoke in isolation, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, as he proclaimed a message of hope, love and faith.
There was one quote from his homily that is particularly relevant, “Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No. It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own.”
Pope Francis continued, “Over these weeks, we have kept repeating ‘All will be well,’ clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.”
It was my intention to draft a message of hope for all of my fellow seniors. As I pondered what to say and prayed for guidance, I reread the entire text of Pope Francis’ homily and felt that I could add very little to the power and beauty of his message.
I urge you to read his homily. Pray on it. Reread it when you need a boost. Share with your loved ones. Let the message of hope resonate to all around you.
You and your family are in my prayers. God bless you.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send your thoughts to Bill, email email@example.com.