Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

In all that we have been experiencing these past several weeks as a world, a nation, a church, and individually, a story I read as a young priest, about 40 years ago, keeps coming to mind. I remember reading an article by a writer named Leonard Mann. I wish I could remember his entire article, but much of it remains in my memory to this day. He used the image of a tunnel and taught never to stop in the tunnel but always keep going remembering that a tunnel has two ends, one where we enter, the other where we exit.
Our few tunnels in the Archdiocese of Mobile are usually well lit. But tunnels elsewhere can be very dark. I recall years ago taking a group of teenagers on a trip to the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Our trip took us along country roads and there were several tunnels which we drove through. These tunnels were unlit and dark.
I noticed that as we drove along in our bus, up and down the hills we traversed, on those sunny beautiful summer days, that the conversation among the teenagers was animated and spirited, until we entered a dark tunnel. Then the conversation became subdued. The noise of the tires of the bus became louder. The bus became dark. One had the feeling of being enclosed and hemmed in until we emerged at the other end of the tunnel into the brightness of the summer day and the energetic youthful conversations resumed.
This may be a good image for life. Our lives may go through sunny days with the ups and downs of life. The road may not be straight, there are curves, but then our life may enter a tunnel. The thing to do then is not to stop in the tunnel, but to keep going. One may wonder who would stop in the tunnel? Many do. They come to a tragedy in life and stay there in its darkness.
I remember knowing a man years ago. He was a very nice man with a cheerful disposition, and had a smile for everyone. Then one day his daughter, whom he loved, died. His life suddenly went into a tunnel of overwhelming darkness. And he stayed there. I never saw him smile again. His entire disposition changed. He became bitter. He stayed in the darkness. He came to the tunnel and he stayed there.
Please, good people, when our lives go into a dark tunnel, and the darkness is real and deep, please don’t stay there. I don’t know where the tunnel will lead. I do know it will bring us out at a different place than where entered. This COVID-19 epidemic will not leave us unchanged. Life will always change but it will go on. Go forward, for that is how life works. Life never goes in reverse.
There were two criminals crucified with Jesus. One asked Jesus to put everything back the way it was. “Save us and save yourself,” he said. He wanted to go backwards. The Gospels do not record that Jesus said a word to him. The other criminal saw Jesus was going forward and asked Jesus to remember him when the Lord went forward. Jesus invited that criminal to come forward with Him.
Jesus invites us to trust Him and to know He is travelling with us. With Jesus we have nothing to fear. With Jesus we can handle anything.
On his first voyage to the New World, Columbus sailed for 69 days over unknown waters. He faced storms, diminishing supplies, and mutinous crews. His ship’s log records all these struggles. However, one day the log contained only five words: “This day we sailed on.” No mention of what was happening on the ship, the longitude or latitude, or the weather, just “we sailed on.” That can describe us in times of struggle, all we can do is just sail on, just putting one foot in front of the other, all the while asking Jesus to strengthen us on life’s journey not knowing how long our struggles will last or how they will play out.
Dr. Benjamin Ewell was President of William and Mary College in Virginia immediately after the War Between the States. Virginia after the War, like most of the South, was devastated. The economy was in ruins, social upheaval racked the land, and a generation of young men lay dead. Despite his best efforts to keep his beloved school open, finances forced the school to close. For 7 years the school remained closed. But every day Dr. Ewell walked across that empty campus and rang the school bell at the time it would normally ring in previous times to call the students to class. Every day he rang that bell even though there were no students at the school, even though he had no way to reopen the school, even though he had no idea of when or if the school would reopen. For 7 years he rang that bell. He rang it until one day it became possible to reopen the school.
So, good people, ring that bell, the bell of faith that the Lord will get us through any tunnel. Tunnels are how we get through obstacles. When obstacles loom before us the tunnel is inescapable. So ring the bell of faith over shattered dreams, broken relationships, a new dug grave, the COVID-19 crisis, ill health, or any darkness. Ring it until the light shines again.
To my brother priests, I address these words: In these difficult times of the pandemic thank you for being our priests. You are amazing blessings to us all. You help us to ring the bell of faith. You strengthen us. You remind us that Jesus is with us. I know that these are challenging times for you but you are outstanding in your priestly ministry. I know you are baptizing and confirming, bringing forgiveness in confession, burying the dead, celebrating weddings, counseling the distraught, visiting the ill (with prudence), and feeding the hungry. Continue to be priests! Continue to live out your priesthood in this time of contagion! I say this not to chide you, because I know you are serving your people, but I say this to encourage you to continue your ministry among us and for us. Of particular pain for us is that we miss our people who cannot join us for Mass. Please continue to pray for our people at Mass. Though they are not with us physically, our prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist unite and bless all of God’s people.
So continue to ring the bell! Ring the bell of faith and strengthen our people in these times of darkness. Travel with them through every tunnel of life until, with God’s help, we reemerge. And be with us in our final tunnel of life where again the Lord will walk with us into a light which will never end.

By Editor

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