By Deacon Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
When we look back and think about things that have transpired during the pandemic, what thoughts and feelings come over us? The daily news about COVID-19 shows us the unprecedented and excruciating reality of our times; it leads us to ponder what kind of future lies ahead of us.
Many important events on my planner are now marked cancelled or postponed: long-distant races, the SPRED (Special Religious Development) ministry dinner dance fundraiser, the baptism of friends’ children, the Easter Triduum celebration in the parish and graduation in May.
I had hoped that my family and friends could join me to celebrate the milestones of my vocation journey. To my dismay, the priesthood ordination has been postponed without knowing when and how to celebrate it. My inner fear gave rise to more questions about life and vocation. Does it still make sense to become priest for empty churches? Does faith have a future in an online church?
The worldwide pandemic has affected each one of us in various ways. All of us are urged to be morally responsible to take care of one another by abiding with the guidelines of stay-at-home, social distancing, work from home, shelter in place, flatten the curve and enhance community quarantine.
The guidelines were implemented for our protection and safety; yet, it also makes us feel justifiably worried. Surely each one of us, depending on own story, feels something that no words can describe. It’s an indescribable feeling that belongs to each of us alone. It is a feeling that I thought I would only encounter when I was close to the edge of death.
I brought my feeling of fear with me to my five-day ordination retreat – the only activity on my calendar that was not postponed or cancelled. During the first week of Easter, I spent this stay-at-home spiritual exercise by contemplating the Resurrection narratives in the Scriptures.
I was drawn to the persons who witnessed the Risen Christ: the women hurriedly running away from the empty tomb; Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb; the two troubled disciples walking on the road to Emmaus; and disciples who panicked, hid and were frightened when Jesus unexpectedly stood in their midst.
The apostles did not presume to inquire “Who are you?” when Jesus invited them to eat a meal with him after their fishing; and the doubting Thomas refused to believe in the Resurrected Jesus until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.
At different levels, each of them was filled with fear. It was not the kind of fear that accompanied the complex emotions of anger, confusion and indifference. Their fear was the result of Divine Providence, a freely given gift from the Risen Lord that led them to and made them rely on their faith, love and hope.
I recalled the profoundly moving image of a shepherd taking care a flock when Pope Francis gave the special Urbi et Orbi blessing at Rome. He stood as a witness and servant of the Good Shepherd Christ Jesus in a deserted St. Peter’s Square with a steady rain falling.
He spoke to us through different means of modern communication; he led us to Jesus’ question: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Pope Francis has proclaimed again and again the message of God’s unconditional love and has urged us all “to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering.”
While experts strive to collect and rely on data to understand how and why the pandemic is happening, we are tasked to reawaken our virtues of faith, love and hope.
We, the Church, the people of God, are missionary disciples. As frontliners, even though fearful, we must serve unselfishly to make sure that we do not become lifeless. We have a duty to make our Church community come fully alive.
We need to let the heart of the Risen Jesus Christ live in our hearts and in the hearts of all. Let the Easter mystery touch your life with the healing power of Jesus’ love. Seek constant growth by putting into action the great work and teaching of Jesus. Free yourself from longing for only the passing things in life. Hold fast to the life Christ Jesus has given to us so that we come to the eternal gifts He promised all who follow him.
We do not know how long we will be in this situation. Faith, charity and hope make our waiting more worthwhile and meaningful. For us who are free from virus infection, let us be grateful and keep ourselves safe and healthy. At the same time, let us be merciful by nurturing and offering kindness.
Let us renew our family life, community life and prayer life. Let us grab our planners and organize concrete ways to live out our Christian life and vocation.