[REFLECTIONS] Faith in the risen Jesus amid the coronavirus

Father Primitivo Viray Jr, SJ

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[REFLECTIONS] Faith in the risen Jesus amid the coronavirus
It is clearly not the powerful and influential in society that we must attend to but those who are weak and vulnerable


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. 

Father Primitivo Viray Jr, SJ, delivered this Lenten homily in Radyo Katipunan’s online mass on March 29, 2020, the 5th Sunday of Lent. Rappler is republishing it with his permission in observance of Holy Week 2020. 

We are in need of much hope and guidance these days.

In an article from America Magazine entitled, “Our response to the coronavirus pandemic reveals who we truly are,” the coronavirus pandemic is described today as “an unprecedented health crisis, a growing economic disaster and fundamental moral test.” It goes on to say, “Our response demonstrates who we are, what we believe and what kind of society we are becoming. Terrible times reveal our true values, priorities and character as individuals and as a society.” I will make use of some of its points in this homily and highly recommend that you read this article.

First, it is through the lens of our faith that we are able to see reality as it is: God’s faithfulness to his people. Pope Francis in his Encyclical Lumen fidei says that faith is “not a light that dispels all of our darkness, but rather a lamp that guides our steps in the night and that is sufficient.” Our faith is not a floodlight that illuminates the entire path of our Christian lives but rather like a lantern that shines on the path of life as far as we ourselves are advancing.

Thus, as we continue to experience the coronavirus pandemic, we must rely ever more on our faith to guide us. We reflect on God’s word and prayer to help us navigate in these uncertain times. We also turn to the Church’s social teachings for principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and guidelines for action. The readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent certainly provide much needed hope in these times of darkness.

In the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, he foretells of a rebirth of Israel as a nation. At this time, the Israelites were already feeling hopeless when the Jewish temple was destroyed and thousands of people including their leaders were exiled to Babylon and held in captivity for more than 70 years! Imagine, 70 years. We have been in quarantine only for two weeks now.

“Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.”

And the basis of Ezekiel’s prophecy? God’s faithful promise: thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD. And it is through the eyes of faith that we are able to see the reality of God’s faithfulness to us.

Second, it is our faith in the Risen Jesus that illuminates our path in these times of darkness and uncertainty. The prophecy of Ezekiel must be seen not only in the light of the Old Testament but also of the entire biblical revelation. We can already see from this prophecy hints of a further meaning that is upheld by the Church. This hints of the promise of a personal resurrection, of a new life through the Spirit of God. And we know in our Catholic faith that this is made possible through the Resurrection of Christ at Easter. That is why the reading today from John’s Gospel is an appropriate partner for the first reading as it talks about not mainly about the new life given to Lazarus by Jesus Christ but of Jesus as the Resurrection and the life.

You have already heard of this very gripping story of the bringing back to life of Lazarus many times. But it is good to remember that this dramatic bringing back to life is not same as our resurrection in Jesus Christ. Lazarus returns to an ordinary human life and will later die. But Christian resurrection transforms us into a new way of life, giving us a participation in the divine life. In today’s gospel, Jesus says to Martha and to us,

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The question for us is: Do we really put our faith and trust in Jesus when facing the fearful possibility of death in our lives? Do we really believe in the Resurrection? Or has our fearful human instinct taken hold of us? In Pope Francis’ homily at Santa Marta this week he speaks about the fear in all of us during this pandemic:

“The fear of the elderly who are alone in nursing homes, or hospitals, or in their own homes, and don’t know what will happen. The fear of those who don’t have regular jobs and are thinking about how to feed their children. They foresee they may go hungry. The fear of many civil servants. At this moment they’re working to keep society functioning and they might get sick. There’s also the fear, the fears, of each one of us. Each one knows what their own fears are. We pray to the Lord that He might help us to trust, and to tolerate and conquer these fears.”

During these uncertain and fearful days of the pandemic, can we truly believe and trust in the Lord as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans Chapter 8: 35, 38-39:

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A third and final point for reflection is the scene when Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?”

When Jesus saw her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled / “nagbuntunghininga siya ng malalim at nabagabag ang kanyang kalooban.” It is the eyes of love and compassion that makes Jesus see the reality of pain and suffering in his friends, Mary and Martha, as well as the other Jews around them crying. And when Jesus saw where his friend Lazarus was buried, he also wept. But he did not stop there, he proceeded to order that the stone be removed, and brought Lazarus back to life.

In these times of the pandemic, we are being invited to open the eyes of our faith, to see reality as it is, as Jesus sees them today. On the one hand we are invited to see beyond our own petty concerns for being inconvenienced by the lockdown, for our being deprived of certain freedoms, for having to wait in a long line at the supermarket and not get what we want. We are invited to see the greater reality of what is most important in life—the gift of our lives, blessings of loved ones, the luxury of having the essentials of income, food, water, shelter and security.

And yet, much more importantly we are invited to see the suffering and pain of others which only the eyes of faith through Jesus’ eyes of love and compassion which can help us to see the anguish of those who have lost their loved ones to the coronavirus. With the eyes of faith we recognize the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses, medical personnel at the frontline of carrying for those infected by the virus. With the eyes of faith, we are made aware of all the workers ensuring our essential needs of food, water, security, electricity. We are invited to give thanks to all other inspiring efforts of people in raising funds in order to provide volunteers the supplies needed for food packs and meals to the homeless, the hungry, and the sick.

And this is the final point: it is with the eyes of faith in the Risen Jesus, that we are moved to action like Jesus when he sees the pain and suffering of others. Terrible times reveal our true values, priorities and character as individuals and as a society. Our Catholic faith helps us to act to ensure the protection of human life and dignity of all and not to discriminate against any one group. This requires us to help people avoid infection, overcome illness and recover from the virus whenever possible. There is a compelling moral obligation to avoid actions, behaviors and attitudes which permit the virus to spread and threaten the life and health of others.

More importantly, our faith insists on action in behalf of those who are poor and vulnerable in society. They have a greater and compelling claim on us to provide for them. Let me end by quoting Pope Francis, “the measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” It is clearly not the powerful and influential in society that we must attend to but those who are weak and vulnerable. The poor and vulnerable have a claim to our conscience and choices, for they are our sisters and brothers—the favorites of Jesus. – Rappler.com

Father Primitivo Viray Jr is provincial superior of the Philippine Jesuits.

Here are other Reflections:


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