I write this during the anniversary of VE Day. Comparisons are being made between the pandemic and the Second World War. The war lasted six years but there’s a touch of ‘war-time spirit’ in the air. A sense of shared danger, restrictions and uncertainty can bring out the best in us. Many have felt a deeper sense of our common humanity and the vulnerability that goes with it.
The Church’s experience behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet era, and in repressive regimes such as North Korea today, have something in common with our experience of practising the faith during the lockdown. In the ‘Church of Silence’, Christians practised their religion underground, deprived of public celebration of the Mass in open church buildings. Some were imprisoned for their beliefs. Yet many moved beyond the public rituals they were denied into a fresh ownership of their faith and an appreciation of the presence of God deep within them. In spite of isolation, Christians experienced a sense of solidarity with other believers, even though they couldn’t meet together.
Similarly, during the time of the Reformation, whenever news was passed that a priest was staying in the vicinity, many risked their lives to attend Mass. People and priests ran the risk of imprisonment, torture and brutal execution. The early Christian writer Tertullian wrote that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’. Our weeks of lockdown hardly match the suffering of persecuted Christians but there is a sense that the faith we may have taken for granted grows in times of hardship. These weeks can inform recommendations we make on the shape of the Church in the future. They give fresh impetus to our Synod 2020 preparations.