Harden not your hearts: Opening up to new life


Globally, people from all walks of life have found themselves confronted with new realities that involve self-isolating from friends, family, colleagues and restricting most activities to the home. While COVID-19 continues to spread panic and misery around the globe, Mary Hyam points out that hope has sprung from adversity, resulting in creative initiatives providing solutions to the challenges that are beginning to emerge.

New words with new meanings and new implications for life as we know it. One hears comments such as: “the world is changing” and “things will never be the same again”. What is changing and what has changed?

Teachers in well-resourced modern classrooms have upskilled and adapted their curriculums, their teaching methods and their approaches to learning in order to keep their teaching going and their learners engaged in the process. Parents have resumed their role as primary caregivers as they work from home and supervise remote learning programmes for their children. Family meals around the dinner table and games evenings have regained their appeal. Families are talking to each other and listening to each other, sharing their stories and their dreams.

Our spirituality is changing, a new spirituality for a new time. Listening to Mass on social media opens up a wide choice of parishes for us to visit, providing opportunities to experience different liturgies and to hear new perspectives on the interpretation of the Word of God. We can be present at Mass anywhere in the world while in the relaxed safety and comfort of our own homes. The Sacrament of the Mass becomes more personal and intimate.  We are not missing out; we are learning new things.

Our spirituality is changing, a new spirituality for a new time.

It has been an exciting revelation to many of the faithful to learn about Spiritual Communion, that they can still participate in the Eucharist without being physically present at Mass. Our children became meaningfully involved in Holy Week activities – we saw many homes being decorated with palms on Palm Sunday and other symbolic decorations during the Easter Triduum.

Where there is life, there is hope

Out of the gloom and doom rises a sense of hope. There is time to reflect on where we have been going wrong and what we need to change if the world is to survive and revive. The reprieve from man’s meddling ways is already allowing the earth to begin to heal.  The abundance of butterflies in our gardens, birdsong in the air, waterways beginning to gurgle and sparkle, and dolphins frolicking in the oceans are all joyous messages from our Creator. “Listen, those who have ears!” He is calling out to us and imploring us to take good care of what we have, before it is too late.

Highways are at a standstill, streets are quiet, shops and businesses are closed, and the fear of an international recession becomes more of a reality each day.

Governments and leaders are working tirelessly to lessen the effects of the virus. They are striving to increase medical care and attention, to make promises to their citizens that they may or may not be able to keep, and to think of ways to lessen the devastating economic repercussions.

The abundance of butterflies in our gardens, birdsong in the air, waterways beginning to gurgle and sparkle, and dolphins frolicking in the oceans are all joyous messages from our Creator.

And what has changed for the poorest of the poor? A stark and cruel understanding of their reality reveals some sad facts: no food security; decreased opportunities to earn a living and feed their families; the realisation of their vulnerability to the virus because they lack access to clean, running water; and no possibility of social-distancing or self-isolation in their crowded living conditions.

How do Christians respond to the call to “harden not your hearts” during this time of fear, upheaval and introspection?

The popular press is abuzz with suggestions for self-help, offering advice on how we can improve our social, physical and emotional well-being. News reports tell us of outreach initiatives borne out of people’s own experiences of the virus. But now and again we hear a story that humbles and touches us.

A community rises to the challenge

Here in South Africa, I have been inspired and touched by the work of the Tsholofelo community in Rustenburg. Tsholofelo means “place of hope”. This community has lived up to its name. It has opened its heart, and more importantly its doors, to a group of homeless men who have been living on the street in the town.

Government promised to find shelters for the homeless during the lockdown period, but that promise did not materialise for these men. The Tsholofelo community met and prayed and discerned that they were being called to invite them in. What a courageous and faith-filled act. This is a community that really does live out the Gospel and bears witness to the word of God; a true example of “harden not your hearts”.

Can we spare a few moments to “listen to his voice”? We need to think long and hard about what we are being invited to react and respond to, which is the plight of others during these unusual and unprecedented times.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Harden not your hearts: Opening up to new life