[REFLECTIONS] Holy Week and COVID-19: Embracing uncertainty

Ted Tuvera

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[REFLECTIONS] Holy Week and COVID-19: Embracing uncertainty
We cannot and must not escape this reality of uncertainty. We have to face it, pray over it, and wrestle with it – and perhaps let go of the need to know why.

It’s a first in world history: an online Holy Week for millions of people, even in Vatican City, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rappler presents a series of reflections to help you, our reader, enter the spirit of Holy Week even in quarantine.

I come from a place where most folks hold traditional community Lenten practices conservatively. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has prompted authorities to impose strict quarantine measures, these dear practices have to be shelved.

Many Church authorities have thus invited the faithful to turn to the essential aspect of these traditions: interiority, that deep spiritual encounter with the divine mysteries stripped of superficiality which, ideally, serves as a visual aid to give people a better grasp of their faith.

Perhaps, because of the COVID-19 threat, it is worth grappling with the mystery of uncertainty, uncertainty brought about by questions on the premise of a loving God who seemingly allowed this unfortunate, miserable situation.

Why did God – an all-loving God – allow this evil crisis to happen? When will this end? How will this end?

I do not know. I bet not even the best of theologians can answer this nor can the best of scientists give a black-and-white response to this.

We are suspended in midair. We are caught in the middle of this tension of uncertainty where we are helpless, reduced as spectators of the constant movement of fate, of uncertainty.

It is difficult to be in a situation where you are left helpless despite having the best of hopes to help: but how?

Such is the reality of life. There are things that are beyond our capacity to grasp or act that not even the most precise of doctrines, be it religious or scientific, can solve outrightly.

In a religious context, N.T. Wright, a prominent contemporary Anglican theologian, notes this situation as that of a lament in a recent Time article.

He explains that in the Bible, a “lament” is one those instances wherein prophets or the people are in distress and are distressed further by the seemingly unresponsive and mum God. A perfect example of this is Jesus Christ’s painful lament on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Speaking further on uncertainty, Jesuit author James Martin puts it more bitingly in a New York Times piece: “Can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?”

More than any superficial, solution-driven response to the God and COVID-19 dilemma is this interior paradoxical uncertainty that confronts humanity as a whole. After all, matters of faith, Thomas Aquinas notes in the first few articles of his masterpiece Summa Theologica, will always be subject to the rational speculative mind. Thus, the reality of uncertainty.

Jesus’ puzzling words

As we enter Holy Week, it is worth reflecting how the disciples of Jesus followed their Master whose words, if taken in their first century Palestinian context, are puzzling.

The first followers of Jesus were Jews who longed for a liberator. Following him was a risk. Following him was taking a rather uncertain path as far as human conditions are concerned.

Like, for example, Jesus was revealing himself to be the promised Messiah to a bunch of fellas whose idea of a liberator is one that is mighty and glorious. And yet what they get is someone who rides a lowly donkey to the holy city of Jerusalem rather than the idealized militaristic hero who marches in triumph to bring forth liberation. Or someone who speaks as a King yet identifies himself as one who hungers, thirsts, and is an unwelcome stranger.

Placing myself in the shoes of Jesus’ followers, I might say: is this freaking guy for real?

But such is the following of Jesus, a life that demands the carrying of the cross. That’s another thing: the cross! It has to be very confusing what he meant by “take up your cross and follow me.”

See, the path that Jesus invites his followers to follow is an uncertain path which leads us to that vague concept of the Kingdom of God.

Holding on to our values

So what is God trying to tell us with this COVID-19 spell? Where is God leading us?

I do not know.

Vague or uncertain as it seems, I think the situation summons us to consider holding firmly to our values despite the COVID-19 crisis.

We live in uncertain times. We do not know what the future holds. This crisis, after all, has already taught us that nothing in this world is quite certain.

We cannot and must not escape this reality of uncertainty. We have to face it, pray over it, and wrestle with it – and perhaps let go of the need to know why.

I think that the challenge, therefore, confronting us, especially us who profess faith in a compassionate God, is how to practice our faith in the midst of uncertainty. And it would be quite unhelpful to suggest anything concrete at this point except by pointing out the need to embrace the reality where we are in.

This, however, is not an excuse for us to be passive.

To be in the tension of uncertainty, after all, brings out our true selves or the cliché “best version of myself” stripped of any outward, often virtual, portrayals of ourselves before God and humanity. 

This COVID-19 tension is quite a test. – Rappler.com

Ted Tuvera earned his journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas and worked as a journalist, covering a major beat for a national daily for 3 years. Currently, he is a seminarian in the Archdiocese of Capiz.

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