2020 has been no ordinary year. This pandemic has forced us to adjust to a dreadful new normal – with lockdowns, mask rules, hand sanitising and a bewildering stream of often contradictory social behaviour messages. This once-in-a-century event also ushered in travel bans, economic hardship and a flood of job losses. At a personal level, couples, families and friends were separated, many of us fell ill and heartbreakingly a large number of lives were lost to the dreaded coronavirus.
With so many things impacting on us all this year, it was easy to forget that the world continued, and life went on. Although many events were largely lost in the Covid catastrophe, 2020 was a pretty consequential year for humanity.
Across the year unprecedented climate disasters gave us fair warning that if we don’t mend our wasteful ways there may not be any planet left for us to inhabit. We held out a faint hope that the COP26 summit might have caught the ear of world leaders – all we got was the 26th set of vague promises, but catastrophic climate events around the globe are telling us we have to change our lifestyles urgently.
Political and military tensions reached dangerous tipping points in numerous countries, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Tigray and the Ukraine, and there has been a desperate and vast migration of peoples across borders in search of sanctuary and safety for their families. The English Channel and those famous white cliffs of Dover, so long associated with epic moments in history, have now become a shameful icon of human inequality, shattered dreams, unattainable sanctuary and lost lives.
On 25th May bystanders captured in graphic detail the final nine-minute struggle of George Floyd as he was being arrested with a knee applied to his neck, having been accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill. It was only the latest example of the systematic racism that was endemic in the US police force, but it tore open the deep fissures of racism that have long been haunting American society, and the wider world.
The protests went global, ‘sportsmen took the knee’ and ambiguous statues were torn down, smashed and thrown away. The global movement forced a re-evaluation of much of our racial history and attitudes, but much work still needs to be done to change the attitudes of the present, as divisions and prejudice only seem to be hardening.
The Covid pandemic has also exposed deep fissures that have long existed here in British society, and that have worsened noticeably in recent decades. In particular, new and dangerously invisible forms of poverty and isolation are all around us, with Catholic charities and organisations reporting ever-increasing demands on their services.
With all this swirling around, and especially when it affects us directly, it’s easy to wonder where God has gone.
The ‘problem of suffering’ has been with us since Adam’s curse and unfortunately poor old Adam’s transgression means it’s an unavoidable part of our human journey to God. And that’s why – even in the midst of dreadful pain and loss – we must never forget where we’re headed: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4).
It’s often hard to accept, but God never deserts us. Our simple human understanding prevents us from knowing why dreadful things happen, often to those who are already burdened – and when things happen to us, our faith can be tested severely. It requires a particularly demanding humility to accept that we’re passing through a badly imperfect world where events can be beyond our control, so we have to trust in God’s wisdom and promise that he is with us always.
Confronting change and the uncertainty isn’t easy, but I am always reminded of the words of the patron saint of Journalists, Francis de Sales:
“Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life; rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms.
“Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”
St Francis’ words are at the heart of the Catholic Network, founded this year to connect Catholics and the Church. We’ve been deeply moved by the many messages of support we’ve received, and the kind help that so many of you have given us.
Despite everyone’s struggles and fears in life we must remember that God is always there and that whatever menaces and doubts may swirl around us, God never deserts us. In his Christmas Message this year Pope Francis was at pains to point out that whatever the tribulations of this world, the Christmas story tells us that above all “God comes for me”.
“Let’s return home with the angel’s song: “Peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!” Let us always remember: “In this is love, not that we loved God that he loved us […] he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:10, 19), he has sought us. Let’s not forget this,” said Pope Francis.
If there is one prayer that I would offer you this Christmas it is that you too will find the strength to trust in the ever-caring presence of God, whatever your present troubles. He is with us always, and will not desert us. That is the deep truth at the very heart of the Bethlehem story.
Wishing you a happy, restful and holy Christmas.
In our prayer always,
Founder, The Edit Partnership Ltd