Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
We continue to journey through this Lent marked by the coronavirus pandemic. This fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare, joyful Sunday. Even as we do penance, the Church reminds us that we are filled with joy, that is why the priest has the option of wearing rose vestments.
We, Christians, know that as St. Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Therefore, even in the face of difficulties we can remain joyful in the Lord. We are invited to joy even during this penitential season. The pandemic alters our daily life, it prevents us from receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist with the frequency we would desire, yet it cannot separate us from the love of God.
This difficult time may also become a time of grace for us if we live it in communion with the Lord. Let us think of persecuted Christians who do not have access to the sacraments. Japanese Catholics, for example, were unable to receive the Eucharist for centuries because there were no priests. The great persecution that unfolded during the times of St. Paul Miki and the prohibition for any foreign priest to come in, did not prevent them from living and passing on the faith to their descendants. When the government finally authorized the entry of missionaries in the 19th century, Fr. Petitjean was very surprised to find Christian communities. In our own times, there are countries such as China where going to Mass on any given Sunday is very difficult. In war torn Yemen there are no priests at all, there is no Mass, yet the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, continue to be there and bear witness to the Gospel even though some of them were murdered not too long ago. Even without the pandemic there are places such as the remote island of Tristan da Cunha or other places where religious persecution, the natural environment, a shortage of priests, religious intolerance or war make it very difficult to receive the sacraments, yet there are Catholics in such places who remain faithful to Christ, the Gospel and the Church. As St. Thomas More said, times are never so bad that one cannot be holy.
The difficulties we are experiencing are transitory. God willing, they will soon be over. Life will go back to normal. These difficulties are an opportunity to deepen our commitment to the Gospel, spending more time in prayer and practicing charity in all its forms. Not only we must take care of ourselves and care for others, especially the most vulnerable, we must also be alert lest our hearts are hardened. Other people are not a threat to my health, they are my sister and brother. Notwithstanding the necessary precautions, social distancing and other recommendations of health authorities, we ought to recognize in one another a brother and a sister, always, everywhere.
This is the time to “care for our fragility”, to use an expression often used by Pope Francis. Caring for our fragility is not only limited to prevention of coronavirus contagion, something that is very much needed indeed, it rather demands a deep solidarity among all of us, especially from the disciples of Christ. As Pope Benedict taught: “to be heard, we must at the same time demonstrate by our own example, by our own way of life, that we are speaking of a message in which we ourselves believe and according to which it is possible to live.”
The daily readings during Lent offer us useful insights in these days of quarantine. This Sunday, for example, we pray Psalm 23. It is one of the most popular passages of the entire Scripture. I am convinced that if we stopped somebody at random on the street and asked them if they knew a passage of Scripture by heart, they would respond: “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.”
This Psalm, so popular and so beautiful, inspires us to trust in the Lord, who not only is at our side, but guides us along the way. That is why we can say with the Psalmist: “even though I walk in the valley of darkness I fear no evil for you are at my side with your rod and your staff.”
The Gospel for this Sunday is also a source of great consolation. The coronavirus pandemic is not a chastisement from the Lord, as it was not the case with the blindness of the man cured by Jesus. It is an opportunity for the manifestation of the glory of the Father, the radicality of his love, his solidarity in suffering, the power of grace that moves our hearts to do good.
As the Lord Himself tells us in the same Gospel passage, we must do the works of the Father and remember that even when night comes, Jesus is present in our midst and He is the light of the world.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid