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Dear friends. Today, 10th October, is ‘World Mental Health Day’ that highlights the importance of an issue that affects us all. Since the pandemic, lockdown and restrictions began, public awareness of the effects of these on our mental health has increased enormously. In fact, only a few days ago, the four Archbishops wrote to the Taoiseach asking for the continuation of public Masses under phase 3 for they rightly consider public worship and prayer to be important for the mental health of people at this time. This assessment has the backing of science for it has been show time and time again that those who have regular life of prayer and who are part of faith communities, enjoy better mental health, happiness and with a greater resilience to cope with trails and suffering.

In the first reading and Gospel this Sunday, the symbol of the banquet is at the center. In both cases, the banquet, at which there is a table with food shared, expresses the generosity of God and his desire to nourish his people with food that truly satisfies. In both readings, there is a celebration and the call to community and to belong. The first reading in particular is a call to prayer and worship in the Temple where God would share his joy and life with a people who desperately needed it.

In this time of uncertainty, anxiety and worry, the Lord is once again asking us to re-commit ourselves to our lives of prayer. He is asking us this not so much for his sake but for ours. Many of us have stopped praying and worshipping not because of scandals or that we no longer believe. It’s just that other things have taken priority and so we do like those in the Gospel today and make excuses of why we are too busy. But these other substitutes for prayer and worship always fail to satisfy what we truly yearn for and leave us feeling unfulfilled and empty. When we stop praying we begin to cut off our own oxygen supply.

In order to face this crisis in our country and our world, we need to summon the strength, the hope and meaning that comes from our faith in Christ. In the powerful words of St Paul in today’s second reading: ‘There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength’. It is our faith and our prayer that gives us strength and gives us mental strength and peace at that time.

Our faith assures us that God’s love is still there for us and that he is at work in the world in making it new. Our faith in Jesus’ birth assures us that he knows what it is to worry and be human. Our faith in Jesus’ cross gives meaning to sickness, suffering and failure. Our faith in him brings us together in communion and assures us that we are never alone. Our faith in Christ invites us to live a certain way that brings joy and peace and steers us clear from ways of life that bring only sadness and misery. Our faith in his resurrection gives us the hope that even death cannot and will not overcome us.

All of this comes together in the practice of worship and prayer. This is not a time we can afford to lose the habit and discipline of prayer. We can easily find excuses not to pray and worship. We are scarily free to reject God’s offer of friendship and peace – to walk away from the banquet. So come instead and find new hope in the precious gift of prayer. May we re-discover in prayer the resilience that makes us stronger mentally and spiritually. Let both action and prayer be our first defense against COVID-19.