To read the homily I was going to give about the woman at the well BEFORE COVID-19 struck, click here.
The 1866, St. Louis Cholera Epidemic killed one-in-ten city residents. Parishes often had as many as a dozen funerals a day. So the pastor of St. Joseph Parish at 11th and Biddle (today St. Joseph Shrine) asked his parishioners to invoke their patron saint’s intercession to end the epidemic. They signed a pledge promising to "erect a monument” to St. Joseph in return for his help. Miraculously, not a single person who signed the pledge died of the illness and soon the epidemic in St. Louis ended. The parishioners erected a beautiful altar, known as the “Altar of Answered Prayers.”
The people of St. Louis and certainly the Catholic Church, having been around for 2000 years, in every part of the world, has been through some pretty terrible epidemics throughout the centuries.
Which isn’t to make light of the current situation. But we can thank God for so many blessings and advantages we have. We know what we are dealing with, we know how it spreads, we know how to slow it down, and we have the technology to develop a vaccine. We are blessed.
It’s normal to feel fear about the unknown and our lack of control. But fear cannot have the final word. We have to respond by learning the facts and leaning on our faith. God is and will be with us throughout this whole situation. We might run from Him but He never abandons us. Because of His care for us, we must be the first ones, as followers of Jesus, who move beyond just taking care of ourselves to thinking of others in whatever way we minister to them.
With every challenge, God offers an opportunity. These moments jar us out of our routine and make us think about what we put our trust in and how we use our time. With so many familiar pastimes cancelled or suspended like sports, travel and other entertainments, we need to fill that void with something. This can become a spiritual opportunity to realize how many things BESIDES God we lean on or go to for comfort and distraction. Oftentimes the penances and sacrifices we don’t choose are the best ones for our souls. What unexpected blessing and holy insight might social distancing provide for us if we give some of this time to prayer and reflection?
Personally, I’m amazed at much I miss sports. I walk into my room at the end of the day and just turn on the tv out of habit, even though there is really nothing currently on that interests me! I have to keep telling myself to turn off the tv and not just go right to my playlist on Netflix. Deep in my heart, this disruption is providing an invitation to talk more with the Lord in prayer. It’s forcing me to see how often I choose distractions over a quality conversation with Christ. Perhaps some of you can relate to that?
We need prayers right now. We need to be praying right now. What a wasted opportunity it would be if we look back and see that we rarely prayed during this time and only sat on the couch watching the tv, shopped online or whatever else to desperately avoid feeling any boredom and anxiety. Even if we do that prayer at home, God can still hear us and we can talk to God not only for ourselves but for all who are affected by this mess. Maybe we can pray for and reach out to those whose small business is struggling because of the closures. Perhaps we could ask a doctor or nurse we know who might be working overtime if we can help in some way with a run to the store or some other errand that they have had time to do. Is their an elderly neighbor or family member who needs a phone call to see how they are doing and ask if there is anything we can bring so they don’t have to go out? Can we assure a friend or family member who is worried about their job that we will be there to help them if they cannot work?
These are just a few ideas but I’m sure you have many more. There are going to be many many ways to introduce grace and charity into an otherwise nasty situation. God is not going to run away from us; he never has. Just like the readings of this weekend, God, will always provide what we need and more. So let’s lead the way for others for however long this corona-lent lasts. Let’s respond to the fear and selfishness we hear about with hope, empathy, encourage each other not to simply fill the extra long spring break or the working from home or the extended time at home into one long Netflix binge watching session. Don’t waste the opportunity for grace and holiness! These crisis are crisis for saints. Pray a little more, live charity, and remember we are not competing with each other but supporting each other so we can emerge from this pandemic a little healthier, holier, and kinder.