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We are entering a period of weeks when we will experience shock, suspense, fear and dismay, and, sadly for some, bereavement. Loved ones will be struck done by the virus. Some will die.

I had a foretaste of this myself during the week as to how fine the line will be. On Wednesday, I received word that a friend was going for testing for the virus as he wasn’t well, Thursday a text from my friend to say he was told he needed oxygen and that he would probably be in for a few days and that should help. Friday evening, another text from someone but with the shocking news my friend was unconscious, in a coma, critical. Thankfully, he has turned a corner and we are hopeful for him and he is surrounded by a symphony of prayer storming heaven.

However, all of this came as a great shock to me. While I am praying for him, thinking of his wife and family, this has brought home to me just how serious the situation is.

It has shown me how indiscriminate this virus is. A healthy man in his 60s. In short, if it gets near us, we are vulnerable and no one knows how much.

I appeal, therefore, again today that we all do our part in preventative action. We have heard the guidelines and we’ve listened to the public health officials, experts telling us to really be attentive in every moment and in every action, remembering social distancing, hand hygiene, the stay at home recommendation, not hanging around in groups.

If we saw a car out of control heading for us, we’d make sure we got out of its way. The virus is that car out of control. The danger is that it will take our parents, grandparents, the unwell, people we love dearly from us. But we can save them. If it were a car, you would do all you could to get them out of the way before it strikes right into, and potentially kills them. You can do that now. Together we can be their protector. We can guard them.   

None of this is easy. It doesn’t come naturally to us to isolate, to restrict our movements like this. Thank God, we are a social people, we love company. So, this requires sacrifice. But this is what loving my neighbour as myself means today. In a word, love right now is… “not growing the virus”.

What we can grow is a new recognition that the people by and large we isolate with is a cluster called family. Those that aren’t able to cluster there are feeling being away from family as never before has family been threatened on a large scale like this.

It’s also a time for us to appreciate, with a new gratitude, the family. We all belong in some way to a family. It’s a time to make the effort in creative ways to be a family and I’m hearing wonderfully encouraging anecdotes of people, in this moment, realising the importance and magic of family.

The look on a child’s face in those moments of joy as we reconnect, whether through walks, games and other activities can wipe stress away, putting this moment in time – albeit a deeply troubling one – into perspective.  

Maybe there are difficulties and tensions in the family. But perhaps we can appeal to each other for an amnesty at least for the coming weeks, that we try for the sake of the children to put our hostilities on hold and be there for them. They too are worried and they need you now. Perhaps we don’t appreciate how this is probably a nervous time for them. They are picking up all kinds of signals that they may find hard to process. They may be trying to cope with the worry that their grandmother or grandfather, or perhaps their mother or father, is going to get seriously ill or worse.

So, we really need to make the effort for the sake of our children to surround them with a caring environment that speaks to them of protection, safe space and time to talk, common activities.

But there is also great resourcefulness and encouragement as well, not least in humour. It’s been a week when people have circulated funny Whatsapp images and videos describing the cabin fever. It’s good to keep our sense of humour alive.  It’s a necessary tonic in these days.

I know also that people are deeply missing their sacrament of communion.  This is another of our sacrifices right now. We must go without for public health reasons, for the love of each other. But let’s remember the sacraments of our Baptism and Confirmation are still working in us. We can be a sacrament of communion, as it were, for each other.

Finally, given the day that’s in it, Mother’s Day, I know there’s a regret in being able to take her out for dinner, buy her flowers or whatever people normally do to celebrate the love of their mother. But don’t let that stop us. If you’re separated from your family now, from your mother, you can always pick up the phone, tell her how much you love her, make a video and send it to her. Just show her how much you care and just how much you need her to stay safe.

I think, too, of all those mothers on the healthcare front line today. Nurses, doctors, hospital staff of any kind, mothers in GP clinics, of course in the testing centres, those ensuring the essential services continue to be provided. 

We need to tell them today that, more than ever, they are our heroes. We know they are our heroes now so please, tell them this on our behalf. We will salute them properly in due course, but right now, I ask those of you whose mothers are out on the front line today to tell them how much we esteem their contribution. And if you have a sister or brother in any of those positions, tell them too. They are guardians of all now, just like Mary, Mother of God herself.