Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pestilence and Penitence

And so we find ourselves in strange times. I won't say unprecedented as there is always a precedent if we look hard enough. In my lifetime, I have never seen churches closed and the Mass suspended.

Is that a lack of faith?

We do need to balance our spiritual lives and physical lives carefully. The spiritual life should come first because that is where we encounter God most keenly and it is where our immortality begins. Our bodies will rise again with our souls so that we can be the complete person that we are. 

Does that mean that the churches should stay open and the Mass said in defiance of this pestilence?

We should first listen to God. Rather than launch ourselves into action or pious fury, rather than cower behind closed doors, rather than scan the news constantly, we should connect with God. This is where isolation can be a benefit as it forces us to look at the state of our immediate personal environment and do something about it.

So, first we pray to God for the eyes of our souls to be opened and cleared from the detritus of our daily living. Then we can see what He shows us.

Secondly, we pray to God for the wherewithal to put right the state of our souls as far as we are able. This outbreak happening during Lent may indeed be a vehicle by which God meets us in our isolation show us what our real illness is. It will be His sacrifice upon the Cross that will save us from all our sicknesses but we have to apply the remedy, just as Naaman has to do the almost banal and take a bath!

Thirdly, we must pray to God for strength when things get messy. The paralytic let down through the roof has his sons forgiven but when he is healed, he is still expected to pick up his own bed and walk. We cannot expect life to be without struggle because this denies us the opportunity to love in all the fullness of its meaning. We cannot simply continue to hold Masses in proud defiance of this pestilence because that action is rooted in pride, not humility. 

Fourthly, we must pray for the courage to love others and potentially open ourselves up to infection. St Damien of Molokai is renowned for catching the disease of those to whom he was called to minister. He was able to bear a disease that we might not. Our strengths and weaknesses differ from person to person. The only constants are God and Love. We need to dare to love God first and then dare to love our neighbour. That takes great courage at times.

Fifthly, we must pray to be beacons of God's hope and light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. We must obviously pray for the alleviation of the suffering caused by this disease, but we also have to remember that a virus is right on the edge of what it means to be a living thing and deserves the respect that all things living require, for God is the Life. It is our rejection of God that means we must take the consequences of our actions whereby this virus lives in the disorder we created for it. Our hope is in God who will bring us out of death and into life where we are in harmony with all things. And we are to live out this hope and die in this hope so that others may know of God's great love even in the darkest, blackest night.

Then, when we have prayed in isolation, we go out and live joyfully for the love of God and neighbour, venerating the cross of our own suffering, and doing God's will in humility, praying all the while.

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