Here is Fr. Maurice’s pastor’s message for this week. Let us pray for one another.
COVID-19: I find it hard to believe that just a few months ago I hadn’t heard the term. Then I heard about a virus in Wuhan—a city in China that I didn’t even know existed. Then it was China. Then the rest of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) didn’t want to call it a pandemic. Then more people died. Then the WHO called it a pandemic. We heard about people in Europe, especially Italy, getting sick. That started to hit closer to home. At one point our Pastoral Team decided that we should stop distributing the Precious Blood (communion from the cup); that was on a Wednesday. On Friday the Diocese of London confirmed our decision. Then Saturday afternoon we received word that all Masses were cancelled for the weekend. On Monday we moved our Mass into the big church at Assumption so that people could be distanced from each other. Then we cancelled weekday Masses and closed all the churches in the area. It has been an incredible progression.
First I didn’t know anyone who had contracted the virus. Then a friend of mine in Rochester, NY, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, tested positive. (Thankfully, she has now been fever-free for 13 days and is considered to have recovered.) A friend of mine in Ann Arbor has it. Msgr. Chuck Kosanke, pastor of Sainte Anne in Detroit, has been hospitalized with it. I’m sure I have more acquaintances who are sick, and I just haven’t learned it yet. At the time I write this, almost 700,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and over 30,000 have died—over one-third of those deaths in Italy. This is very serious. In New York state it has now been confirmed that transmission between some people was by coming into contact with each other at their Catholic parish. Where numbers are rising slowly (instead of skyrocketing) it is because people are taking “social distancing” seriously.
This past week Pope Francis gave an extraordinary “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World) blessing, offering a plenary indulgence to all of us who participated, all of us who are affected by the virus, or who care for those who are. He preached on the gospel passage from Mark (4:35-41) that relates Jesus calming the sea. I quote the first three paragraphs of his homily:
“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. 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. We find ourselves afraid and lost.
Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).
Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.
I think that is our invitation today. In this weekend’s gospel passage we hear about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. By his action he saves his friends from discouragement and teaches them that God is about life rather than death. I invite all of you to continue to pray and to bring life to others, to save one another from discouragement. I close with more of Pope Francis’ words:
The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us 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. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, 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.