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Homily of Bishop Denis, Carlow Cathedral via webcam 15.03.2020

Homily of Bishop Denis, Carlow Cathedral 11am Mass via webcam Sunday 15 March 2020


I welcome all of you who join us through the webcam facility in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow this Sunday morning. While the obligation to be physically present at Mass is completely removed for all of you this day; you have chosen to join us and unite your prayer to ours as we pray for our anxiety to ease, our fears to be calmed and our broken lives to be healed in the face of the coronavirus, Covid-19. It is so good to be spiritually together at times like this, we need each other.

It’s the Sunday of the Woman at the Well – the third Sunday on our Lenten journey – Digging Deeper, Living Lent. The woman had come simply to draw water in the midday sun, but she trusts Jesus with her story, the deeper she digs, the greater the mercy, understanding and compassion offered by Jesus. Drawing water is easy, telling our story is another matter entirely. Let’s pause a moment as we gather around our kitchen tables, our computer screens and share our story with the One who never judges, who has no agenda but to offer us bread that lasts forever and water from a well that never dries up. Let us pray for forgiveness …


The poet Krista Besselman’s in her poem ‘Women at the Well’ writes:

When our past has cast a shadow
even sunshine can’t dispel.
There is One who knows and loves us
who will meet us at the well.[1]

Each of us know our own well, our own church, our own Cathedral. We know the seat we sit on. We even know who’ll sit behind us or in front of us. Familiarity is completely upended on a Sunday like this.

It’s getting close to high noon and we have come with our bucket to that well. Only this time we find that well is in our own homes, in our own space, in our own lives. It’s unfamiliar territory for celebrant and congregation but bit by bit we will drop our bucket deep into that well today and pray for the consolation and comfort only His life-giving water offers.

When our first love’s far behind us
And we’re shocked how far we fell.
Look how far He’s come to save us,
look! He’s waiting at the well.

Every Sunday, every day He is with us. Always by our side. In fact, even more so in our pain, in our loneliness for Eucharist this day, He is by our side. The Lenten journey reminds us Jesus is the source of our life and today is the first of three Sundays unravelling the gift that Jesus is to all of us. Next week we meet the blind man at the Pool of Siloam and the following week we witness the raising of Lazarus.

When we’re shackled with a secret,
like a captive in a cell.
There is One who knows completely
and will free us at the well.

If it wasn’t for his thirst, Jesus would never have sat down by the well, and he might never have met that Samaritan woman! If it wasn’t for the impending threat that the coronavirus is, we would be physically present at Mass today; but we’re not and mustn’t be, so that we can act responsibly to contain the spread and risk of a virus that knows no boundaries. Some people compare these days to the ‘foot and mouth epidemic’ in the 1940’s or even the war times, but this is not war times, this is a proactive call to work collectively as community, as parish, as diocese, as country for the greater good.

When we’re hurt by long rejection
bitter looks and angry yells.
We find pardon and acceptance
offered freely at the well.

There is the risk in days like these that we could turn inwards on ourselves and sit with our own pain, fragility, vulnerability. The most wounded woman in the whole gospel meets Jesus this day and when she meets Him, she meets mercy. And in her encounter at the well she faces every last bit of her past, buried deeply. While we might be inclined to turn inwards these days, I suggest we need to set our hearts outwards – a phone-call to an elderly neighbour; another one to a vulnerable relative. Give family and friends time, without ever leaving your front door, our greatest poverty in Ireland today perhaps has been the poverty of time. Let’s use productively this time given to all of us.

When we’ve drunk the living water
but we feel like empty shells.
We are overdue a visit
to the Healer at the well.

Across our diocese there are no public Masses today, St. Patrick’s Day or next Sunday. Twenty-six of our parishes, like the Cathedral offer a webcam facility. More will use a parish radio frequency. Every crisis also offers us a moment to explore new ways of expressing our faith is. The Church is not a building; it’s a community, and on this day its very much a digital on-line community. Over the days we will endeavour to use social media to its full capacity. The time will come, hopefully soon, when we can return to healer at the well in the noonday sun, but in the meantime let’s stay connected in prayerful solidarity with one another.

When we’re busy and exhausted,
sit beside Him for a spell.
There’s an open invitation
come and join Him at the well.’

Let us very much remember in prayer those affected by the coronavirus and those at the frontline protecting us from its effects, the healthcare and medical teams. I also ask you to pray also for all our priests today in the Cathedral where they are due to gather with the Diocesan community for Chrism Mass in Holy Week. Celebrating a Public Mass on a Sunday is the axis a priest’s life rotates on. Many make huge sacrifices, often at a personal cost looking after their parish. Look out for them, lower your expectation these critical days, so that they too may be protected fully from the virus and its impact. And most of all look after yourself and one another, particularly those most vulnerable, fragile and on the edges. While the coronavirus recognises no boundaries; as people of faith neither does our love and compassion for one another. And let us all look forward to that day when together once again we will meet the Healer at the Well.

When we’re busy and exhausted,
sit beside Him for a spell.
There’s an open invitation
come and join Him at the well.’

[1] Besselman, Krista: ‘Woman at the Well’,