My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be writing to you in the midst of a global health pandemic. Only last month, I was writing to you about something as simple and relaxing (at least to me) as painting, and how I saw parallels between painting and Lent. Today, I write amidst an atmosphere of uncertainly and anxiety as we deal with a virus that spreads quickly, requires considerable isolation from one another, and threatens the more vulnerable sectors of our population.
Much has been written about the COVID-19 pandemic, and about what it means theologically and spiritually. And, to be frank, I disagree with some of what has been said.
In the midst of our current trials, I would like to offer four simple points for our reflection:
Do not succumb to the thinking that the COVID-19 pandemic is divine retribution. God is angry, the thinking goes, and He is expressing His wrath so that we repent. This line of thinking is tempting, but it is theologically unsound. It is true that evil exists because of human sin. Original sin – and all the many times we sin again – these realities have ruptured our relationship with God. Let me emphasize that our relationship with God is ruptured, but not irrevocably broken. Nevertheless, because of the ruptures in our relationship with God, so too have our relationships with one another and even with the physical world been ruptured. Again, ruptured, but not irrevocably broken. That’s why we experience both good and evil. Furthermore, we experience not only moral evil (theft, lies, murder, war), but also physical evils (hurricanes, earthquakes, cancer, COVID-19). But here’s the important point: We know why evil exists: because our original relationship with God and with the created world – the kind of relationship that prevailed in the Garden of Eden – has been damaged. However, we do not know why specific evils happen to specific people. That is why we must resist the notion that COVID-19 is some form of divine retribution or of God’s wrath.
Here’s why I do not think our current health crisis is a manifestation of God’s wrath: Evil and suffering grieve God. He takes no satisfaction in these. Think of Our Blessed Lord Himself. When He arrived at the tomb of Lazarus, He wept (John 11: 35). Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, yet, when He arrived at the tomb, He wept. And so it is today. Evil and suffering grieve God. He takes no satisfaction in our current trials.
Jesus is with us always. Just before He ascended into Heaven, Christ promised us, “And know that I am with you always, even to the end of time” (Mathew 28: 20). Even when Jesus might seem absent from us, He is with us. He is with us in our suffering, because He suffered for us. He is with us in our affliction, because He was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53: 3). I think also of Our Blessed Mother, for she too was “acquainted with grief.” She stood courageously at the foot of the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows did, her heart breaking as her son was brutally crucified. Michelangelo’s Pietà poignantly conveys the sorrow and the suffering Our Blessed Mother endured. In this current time of trial, we can turn to Christ and His Blessed Mother in prayer, because they were both acquainted with grief.
Christ and His Blessed Mother knew grief. They also knew joy. They knew the joy of the Resurrection. By His Cross and Resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death. Death is not our final end. Even when we pass from this earthly life, we rise to eternal life with Christ. This is why the seventeenth-century preacher and poet John Donne could rebuke the dreaded enemy: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so . . . One short sleep past, and we wake eternally / And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” It’s why Welshman Dylan Thomas could proclaim, “And death shall have no dominion.”
Our hope is in the Lord, who assured us, “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live, and whoever believes in me will never die” (John 11: 25 – 26). And then He added, “Do you believe this?”
Yes, Lord, we believe!
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,
P.S. The Marianists are praying for you, your family, and your friends. If you have specific prayer intentions, please let us know. You can submit prayer intentions to either the Chaminade or the Kellenberg Memorial website, or by emailing me at email@example.com.
Times are tough, and we know that many of you are suffering. Nevertheless, with confidence in our Risen Lord, we wish you the blessings and the joys of the upcoming Easter season. Happy Easter!