March 29, 2020 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Dearest brothers and sisters, today is the 5th Sunday of Lent.  While we continue to hunker down in our homes without any idea of what next, God, in today’s readings, brings us hope.  In the first reading, through the prophet Ezekiel, God tells us:  “I will open your graves and have you rise from them”.  This message of hope given to the Israelites while in exile is being addressed to us today as well.  As Richard Murphy remarks, “this vision fanned the flame of hope among the exiles . . . and the vision speaks to us too.  Our world, (presently) is full of shattered hopes, disillusionment, and disappointments” as a result of the Coronavirus.

It is true that presently, there is an intense feeling of exile in many who are unable to receive the Lord in the Eucharist again this Sunday due to Coronavirus lockdown.  This sadness can only be imagined and while there is nothing comparable to it from our human perspective, from a faith dimension, so much can be learned from it.  The paradox of the moment can be expressed with the opening words of Charles Dickens’ Tale of two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,…

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Assessing the moment, everything is dependent on how one perceives and hears God through it.  In the Gospel, despite Lazarus’ four days in the grave, Jesus still raised his friend from the dead reminding us that nothing is impossible for God.  While Lazarus’ death and entombment were worst of times for his sisters, the visit of Christ, as we read in today’s Gospel, and his accompanying miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead were their best of times.

Presently, while debate about the best course of action to end this pandemic ravaging our world continues to rage, one thing that is clear is that there is no easy way out of the situation.  Our best shot is to find out what God is calling us to do.  As St. Leo the Great admonishes us, we “shall not stand by idly when our neighbor’s life is at stake”.  Perhaps, one can only hope to see the present shutdown in that light.  As Christians, we are called to offer up our present inconveniences for the spiritual regeneration of the world, good of our brothers and sisters, and perhaps, the extirpation of the virus from our midst.

While our Sunday Eucharistic Communion is presently not feasible, our communion with the Lord extends to our care for others.  It is important to remind ourselves that Jesus did not just come down to dwell in the Eucharistic bread for its sake but to dwell in our hearts.  Today, our access to the Lord is mainly through our family and, perhaps, our neighbors.  St. Leo the Great reminds us, “No act of devotion on the part of the faithful gives God more pleasure than that which is lavished on his poor”.

And when we ask the question, “who are the poor in our present circumstance?”, it is that family member or neighbor who is presently paralyzed by the fear of the virus though he or she is healthy; it is that one who has contracted the virus; it is your neighbor who has been laid off by his or her company; it is that family member or neighbor who is unhappy about how his or her life has been temporarily shut down by the government and the Church.  All the aforementioned and many more are our poor neighbors and it is to them that we are to bring Christ’s love now.

The Italian priest, Rev. Giuseppe Berardelli from Bergamo diocese in Northern Italy, who gave up his ventilator machine to a younger patient while succumbing to the mortal blow of this virus has shown us the practical way of bringing Christ to others.  Though we may not have been called to his level of heroism, the present difficult circumstance created by the virus is calling us to give up “our little ventilators” in our own little ways.  Each of us knows how best to do that!

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