Can anyone forget that extraordinary event which occurred on Friday 27 March 2020 at St Peter’s Sqaure? In a strangely empty square, where usually is the umbrella or the global theatre under or on which all the people of the world assemble together?
The emotional and spiritual heaviness that we all saw on TV, You Tube, Facebook or even sensed while listening to the radio will never be forgotten. It was a heaviness that demanded, from you and me, first and foremost, the gift of tears. Yes! That gift of shedding our tears with those that are now in the greatest of turmoils ever! That is why, in his Sunday homily of March 29 2020, the Pope stated that it is a grace to weep with those who weep as many people suffer from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. In that beautiful homily he said: Many people cry. We too, from our hearts, accompany them. And it won’t hurt us to cry a little with the Lord’s weeping for all of his people. How tenderly Jesus weeps! he said. He cries from the heart, cries with love, cries with his [people] who cry. If Jesus himself cries for and with his people and then we too are encouraged to cry for those who are undergoing such hardships. Can we not lift these people up in prayer before God? This is what Pope Francis did on Sunday March 29 before he celebrated Mass in the chapel of his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta. On that Sunday he offered the Mass for the people who are weeping because of coronavirus loneliness, loss, or economic hardship.
At the beginning of his speech before giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing, on Friday 27, Pope Francis gave a succinct picture of the present situation in the world. Taking his inspiration from the Gospel pericope of Mark 4:35-41 the Holy Father said: For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away.
The uncertainty of the moment is heightened because amid this fear and the feeling of being lost, due to this unexpected, turbulent storm, with the boat that is in danger of sinking, there is Jesus. The Son of God, who for Him the impossible for us is possible for Him! However, this Jesus appears sleeping at the stern of our boat. Like the disciples, we too address to Him our anguished plea: Teacher, do you not care if we perish? Surely, human as we can be, such a prayer is not a compliment at all to Jesus since, by it, we tend to convey to Him the message: “Do you not care about me?”
Pope Francis helps us dispel not create our fear and anxiety at the moment. In fact, he assures us that Jesus more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, within the Markan narrative of the storm as soon as they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.
The current crisis we are living in has showed something very serious about our common human condition: it demonstrates our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It horrendously unearthed all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us.
We were so foolish in letting ourselves be going ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. We let ourselves becoming greedy for profit, and get[ing] caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.
So, what are the antibodies we need to confront [this] adversity? First, this time of trial [i]s a time of choosing. In other words, it is 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 second antibody we need at this moment of crisis is undoubtedly self-giving love for others. The Pope mentions the example of doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. These people, even if fearful themselves, are letting the force of the Spirit fashioning them into courageous and generous self-denial gladiators of Jesus self-giving love.
The third antibody to counteract the coronavirus is prayer. 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… Within a milieu of isolation, lack of tenderness and opportunities to meet let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.
The fourth antibody, which Pope Francis is lovingly presenting to us, is that of embracing Christ’s Cross by giving free reign to the Holy Spirit to show us creative new ways of solidarity with those who are suffering. In simple words, it means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. It means let it [the Cross] strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
The fifth antibody is turning to the Lord through Mary, Our Mother’s, intercession. She is Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. Thanks to her maternal care and prayer we will be open to receive God’s blessing, the healing of our bodies as well as the comfort of our hearts. She teaches us how to live what St Peter writes in his First Letter: Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you (1 Pet 5:7).
Are these simply five antibodies to confront the Covid-19 adversity or are they God the Father’s fivefold embrace which He is giving to us, personally and collectively, at this critical juncture in the history of mankind?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap