Australian Jesuit Provincial Fr Brian McCoy SJ draws on the life and words of Nelson Mandela to guide us through the restrictions on freedoms as we navigate the road ahead. Full transcript below.
A long walk to freedom.
These past weeks, I have been drawn back to the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, where in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, he tells the story of what it was like to be imprisoned, to be locked down, in ways we can possibly never imagine.
For 10,000 days, and 18 years, on Robben Island, and how he came out of that experience, he and others, stronger and better for the experience.
As he recounts his story, his growth, his life with others in a terrible time for his state, for his race, his country, three things struck me as important.
He emphasised the importance of finding a rhythm, a rhythm to live with, in imprisonment. It began when he first entered the prison and the prison officers wanted him to jog, with other prison officers, to where they were going. And he refused. He chose to pace, and walk at a pace, that was appropriate and restful and right for him at that time.
That sense of rhythm, of pace, is something he continued to learn and discover in his time of imprisonment. Various forms of exercise, of study, of engaging other prisoners, working within the rhythm of prison, but to find a rhythm that suited himself.
A second thing he learned was to discover the purpose of the enemy. How the enemy, through its various prison officers, sought to control him, restrict him, and deny him the freedom that he believed in and wanted for himself and his people.
We have to understand this enemy. This virus is our enemy. It has killed more than 500 Australians and thousands and thousands across the world. And we are still coming to understand how this virus, this enemy, works. And so we resist it, we protest against it. We fight against it in all sorts of ways – hygiene, social distancing, and every time we put on a mask.
We protest against it. We defend ourselves against it. And we defy it.
The third thing he discovered was the importance of caring for one another in times of lockdown. He and his fellow prisoners cared for one another, making sure that people were well fed, that those who were weak were looked after, that learning came together and they helped one another. It’s so important to care for one another, when we are vulnerable and imprisoned.
So those three things struck me as important: the importance of finding a rhythm, of getting to understand the purpose of the enemy and the way it works, but also how we care for each other at this time.
Ignatius would remind us that we need to be open and encourage ourselves in the gift of consolation – those things that give us joy, often little things. For Mandela it was simply washing his clothes. Little things that give us joy. We continue to find them, to be nourished by them, but also to encourage those consolations in the lives of others with humour, with care, with life, with hobbies and all sorts of ways, their life, and ours, coming to the front.
Ignatius would also warn us and advise us to be alert to those things that are of the bad spirit, things that cause division, desolation, even depression. To watch over them within ourselves and amongst those around us, and dismiss them, expel them, reject them, and go back to those consolations that will always strengthen, guide us, and give us life and joy.
So as we go together on this long road to freedom, let us find a pace that is right for us and those around us, let us keep attentive to the way the enemy works and resist it, and let’s care for one another, bringing out the joys, the consolations in our lives and theirs, and resisting those that divide and hurt and harm us.
So on this long road to freedom that we share together, stay well, find that rhythm, resist the enemy, and care for one another.
Fr Brian F McCoy SJ