Lockdown, and the isolation that comes with physical distancing, definitely bring their challenges, says Fr Brian McCoy SJ. But much like St Ignatius’ time in the cave, they also bring graces and opportunities.
Welcome to Melbourne, now the lockdown capital of Australia. Where I, and a number of millions of other Melburnians, have gone back to a lockdown we thought we could escape from and move on from, at least a week ago and beyond that.
This further lockdown has caused a lot of pain and stress amongst many of us. Unable to continue businesses that were starting to open, unable to visit friends. And we watched with great sadness the pressure that was put on those in the units and flats of Flemington around there, who were locked down immediately and without often the access of resources and social support they needed at the time.
So this Victorian and Melbourne lockdown has caused us much pain. Many of us, anxiety, concern, worry how we’ll cope in the weeks ahead, and unable to do the things we had longed for and hoped for.
For me, the, the image that I kept coming back to is, ‘I’m back to my cave’. And this is, as you see behind me, my cave. This is where I have been based for several months, unable to fly and travel. It’s where I work, it’s where I think, it’s where I pray, it’s where I rest. It is my cave.
Going back to the cave is okay, at times, but it can be quite stressful. Because, like most of you, I want to get out of this cave. I want to see you. I want to travel. I want to move around and enjoy the riches on this land. So the image is a cave, then, took me back to Ignatius and his cave in Manresa when he was age 31. As you will remember, Ignatius was severely injured in the Battle of Pamplona at the age of 30. His leg was severely broken, didn’t heal properly, and had to be broken again. And in that period of recuperation, which must have been pretty tough, he starts to think, ‘Well what is all this life about?’ And so, as he comes out of recuperation, he decides to go on a journey. And at the age of 31, a year later, he heads on a very long journey and part of the journey takes him to the town of Manresa, to a cave there where he spends many months.
In that cave, he’s starting to consider his life – where it’s come from, where it might go, what it means. And we should not romanticise this period of time, at least some aspects of it. It was an incredibly difficult time. He becomes anxious, scrupulous, considers self harm. It is quite a difficult time.
At the same time he starts to realise important things about his life and the life God has given him that will change his life forever. He has a counsellor, and the counsellor advises him. He has friends that he sees. He goes out to beg for food and care for the poor. He spends a lot of time in this cave.
And one day he comes out of the cave, and he’s sitting beside the Cardoner River – we’d probably call it a creek in Australia – that runs through Manresa. And it’s there, sitting beside this Cardoner River, that he receives insight, powerful spiritual insight, that he says remained with him, sustained him and continually enriched him for the rest of his life. A powerful experience.
So the cave was important. The cave was demanding and testing. And he would say later that this period of time was like being in school, and it was like being taught by a teacher. That God was a teacher, teaching him as a teacher would teach a child. New things. Important things. Deep and meaningful things.
So I think as we go back to our caves – at least we in Melbourne, and some of you outside of Melbourne hope you don’t have to – let us remember to be people of courage. Together we can and will go through this time of lockdown. Let’s bear in mind that in the difficult times of being in a cave, or however we describe our lockdown experience, there are people around us who can listen to us and counsel us and support us, and we should, if we can reach out to them.
But let’s not forget the Cardoner experience for Ignatius. This time he moves out of the cave to sit beside a river, inviting us to consider those moments when we can move out of the cave, the back yard, another room, another place, and allow God to reveal things that are really deeply important to us now. Things that we can, with grace, carry deeply for the rest of our lives.
So let us not lose hope. Let us be people of courage. Let us continue to be a community that cares for those vulnerable. And let God continue to teach us what’s really important, what will sustain us, not just now but for the rest of our lives.
Enjoy your cave, if you can, and for those not in the cave, think about us and pray for us. Thank you.
Fr Brian F McCoy SJ, Provincial