The annual Sacred Heart Novena in St Francis’ Xavier Church Gardiner St was held solely online for the first time and people from Ireland and around the world took part. The Novena was held online due to government restrictions regarding the spread of the coronavirus.
” A really strange but gratifying experience,” was how the Sacred Heart Novena team described it, according to Gerry Clarke, PP of the church. The most encouraging thing, he noted, was “the constant stream of prayer requests coming in on the phone and via the internet, and the calls, letters, and cards of gratitude. We had decided to go ahead and keep this midsummer prayer opportunity alive even in time of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown and we are very happy that we did.”
Every evening at 7.30pm from Thursday 11 June until Friday 19 June, Fr. Kieran O’Mahony OSA explored the question ‘Is your heart in the right place?’ for the online congregation who tuned took part via the church’s webcam or on their Facebook page.
The well-known lecturer and biblical scholar focused on the Gospel of St Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. He gave his input during the Mass, which could also be accessed on Parish Radio [Short Wave/FM 27.6021].
According to Fr Gerry, each night Fr Kieran, an Augustinian scripture scholar, opened up new ways to the heart. Referencing the theme, Fr Kieran said, “In part, this is an echo of something we say about someone who is difficult: but her/his heart is in the right place! This time, we use the expression to explore ourselves as disciples: is my/our heart in the right place?”
Fr Kieran was aware, he said, that people miss the presence of Christ in Holy Communion. “But the same Christ is equally present in his Word. All that is required is an attentive ear, an open mind, and listening heart.”
A turning point for many viewers of the Sacred Heart Novena was when Fr Kieran introduced the idea of an ‘underlying condition’, says Fr Gerry. “We have been hearing this so much about the over-70s and the vulnerable, but actually everybody has their underlying conditions that open or close their hearts to God’s message in Jesus.”
Referring to Luke’s Gospel story of the rich young man, Fr Kieran explained that the Gospel tells the story of a certain ‘leader’, one who has an apparently genuine desire to be good but who also had an ‘underlying condition’. He explains:
Jesus starts with the usual response, telling him what it means to be good, but the man demands more, boasting perhaps a little. Although perhaps not obvious at the time, Jesus does the man a great service: he puts his finger unerringly on one interior block which really prevents him from taking the next step: radical discipleship. Unlike many stories in Luke, this narrative ends on a downbeat note. The young man became very sad because he was very wealthy. This is the only time in the Gospel that someone presents him or herself for discipleship ‘unbidden’ and it does not work because the ‘leader’ does not truly know himself. That can happen to us too— the ideal is one thing, the real is another.
Fr Gerry noted that one of the antidotes to a lonely and disappointed search for faith is community – “And that’s what we normally enjoy so much at the Novena in June and it’s what we missed so much this year”. Fr. Kieran explained what this meant for him. A great benefit, he said, of belonging to a faith community is that you can bring along your experience for confirmation and discernment. He could not imagine being a Christian on his own. What he has now, he commented, was carried by the generations before him. “A fundamental ‘belonging’ is at the heart of being a believer,” he said.
The prayer of the Sacred Heart Novena team in Gardiner St Church, according to Fr Gerry, is that next year “the crowds will flock back to Gardiner Street and share the experience of community we missed so much this year. But we celebrated as best we could because we believe, our heart was in the right place. In short, believing is belonging.”
Prior to the Novena people were invited to drop their intentions in at the front office of the Church, post them in or put them online via the parish Facebook page,’
Each night of the Novena the parish team lit a candle in the shrine of the Sacred Heart on behalf of all the intentions received.
Sacred Heart Novena booklets with scripture readings, prayers, and hymns for the Novena were also made available for participants in advance, at the front office of Gardiner Street Church, or by post on request.
Donations toward the cost of the Novena could be made at the Parish Office or online through the donate button on the parish website and Fr Gerry said he was humbled by the generous response of those who took part, noting that people “responded from hearts that were clearly touched during this novena time”.