Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hope in our Faith... My reflection on Pope Francis’ Gospel Homily before delivering the Urbi Et Orbi during the COVID-19 outbreak

The sky is darkening and the rain is falling.  The Square normally over-crowded, full of people from all over the world, all different ages, all different ethnicities and backgrounds is now empty and quiet.  Silence as an old man, stooped and half-limping, walks alone, nothing to protect him from the falling rain, the only one visible, the brightness of his white cloth a contrast to the darkened square around him.  A small audience barely visible at the borders of the plaza, dark and faceless. Too far to speak to, to hear, and out of reach.  No one to wave to, no one to hug, no child to bless and kiss on the head.  Not even a single headlight from a passing car is seen.

As Pope Francis makes his way to the lit platform in the middle of St. Peter’s Square to deliver his meditation before he delivered his Urbi et Orbi blessing, and helped up the steps by Monsignor Marini, I am suddenly aware of the weight of all that I had been feeling for the last couple of weeks: the anxiety, the fear, the uncertainty.  As he opened in prayer, his breaths heaving, the droop in his face more pronounced, his eyes normally light with his smile are dark and weary, the strain of the last couple of months was apparent.

The Gospel reading was the Calming of the Storm (Mark 4:35-41), the perfect metaphor, and the setting could not have been more perfect. We were drifting through the sea of life, everything seemed in perfect order.  Though we each had struggles in our lives, we were getting by.  But... the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.
Our daily routines we have grown so accustomed to have been disrupted.  Most of us are forced to stay home, unable to work or having to work from home.  Our social lives have been diminished to phones and screens.  All that we were looking forward to (concerts, festivals, conferences, parties, celebrations, social gatherings) have all been cancelled and/or postponed.  As we watch shelves empty, supplies barely able to keep up with the demand; our parks roped off and boarded up; “non-essential” stores and businesses shut their doors, we come to see what is immaterial. Those things we felt we couldn’t live without, we are being forced to cope without.   It is not the time of your judgement but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.  It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.  The life we knew has come to a jerking halt.  Like the disciples in the boat, we are alarmed and anxious.  We do not know when the worst of the storm will be or when it will pass.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.  It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.  The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls.
And as we listen to the number of cases increasing exponentially, the number of deaths climbing; as we are inundated with negative media, further stimulating our fears.  We cannot visit our distant family members.  We are suspicious of strangers, staying away, not knowing where they have been or what they may carry.  Hospitals are not taking visitors, leaving those who are ill without the comfort of loved ones.  Our Churches are closed, Masses are done at a distance.  At a time we most feel we need to receive the Eucharist, we are unable to physically do so.  Some of us may feel abandoned and alone.  The times we need the most comfort we cannot get it.  Just as His disciples questioned if He cared, we may wonder where is God, where is our Lord at this time?  But throughout his Homily, Pope Francis repeated Jesus’ words Why are you afraid? Have you no faith? (Mark 4:40)

We recognize the value in the smallest gestures that we had taken for granted: a smile from a stranger, a walk at the beach, the beauty of nature, a comforting hug, a simple “hello”.
How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility?  How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer?  How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
We are being reminded that God, our faith and our spirituality remains in each and every one of us. Our spiritual desire is what fulfills us.  The Sacramentals which are physical reminders of the grace of our Lord are no longer in reach.  Their significance and value are dependent on our desire and need for God.  While we cannot feel them, see them, smell them, touch them, we can still feel God’s presence.  And we need God at this time. It is up to us to show one another, especially our children, how to seek Him.
Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.  We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord... Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
How many of us, because of our busy lives, have said we don’t have time to pray?  How many of us forgo weekly Mass because it does not fit our schedule?  Now we have time, time to sit down and find our faith in Him again.  While you are feeling abandoned, remember that by His cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others.  The Lord died for us.  Why would He not care for us at this time?  Repeatedly, Pope Francis spoke the words of Jesus “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

I’ll admit I was a the height of my anxiety.  Being in the health care field, continuing to teach new nurses, I had my own fears.  What if I bring it home to my children?  My child has been hospitalized for asthma triggered by a simple cold.  What more if he gets this? I’ve heard of nurses who refuse to go home to their families, in fear of passing it on.  We do not fear so much for ourselves as much as for our elderly parents and our children. Nurses have said they don’t walk straight into the house, but walk through their garage and remove their clothes there before walking in.  Even when we’ve taken every precaution we could, there is still that worry in the back of our minds. I worried for my friends and family who are still in the front lines, seeing and caring for patients every single day.  As he repeated “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” All I was feeling began to release itself, and I found myself crying the tears I could not cry.

It is time we find our spirituality, strengthen our faith, seek His guidance, heed His words.  God has given us the gift of hope, of love, of charity.  And we are in the age of technology, a time where we have the capabilities of spreading love and hope far and wide.  We still have all we need at our disposal.  We know more what it means to have what we need to survive.  To help us through this time, we must have faith in our Lord, who loves us and cares for us, who gave His life for us.

Full video with English translation from Vatican News