The themes of the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are a foreshadowing of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. In first reading the Prophet Ezekiel has received his prophetic challenge from God to go preach to the Jews in Exile who had fallen into evil ways and were practicing idolatry. He found a world in religious chaos. Ezekiel delivers the message from God and also warns the Jews that worse things will still come upon them—the destruction of Jerusalem. The passage for today is a call to repentance and a return to the Lord for all of us.
“Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your
graves and have you rise from them, O my people. I will put
my Spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon
your own land. Thus, you shall know that I am God.”
If we take a quick glimpse at our world today, we find that religious values no longer seem to be in the forefront of people’s lives. People seem too busy to take time for worship and prayer. As Father Rolheiser notes in his text The Holy Longing, “People want the church for baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc., but they don’t want to go to them for worship.”
When people are so busy, family life also deteriorates. People no longer find time to share meals, conversation, leisure and building community together. These two anchors that give deep meaning to life are less and less evident in people’s lives today.
When crises, such as the pandemic that we are experiencing at this time, disrupt our taken-for-granted way of living, when everything seems to be falling apart around us, people’s faith that seemed dormant is once again stirred into flame. We cry with the Psalmist,
“Out of the depth we cry to you O Lord.
O Lord hear our prayer.” (Ps. 130:1).
It was a similar desperate cry for help that Martha and Mary sent to Jesus:
“Master, the one you love is ill.” This passage from the Gospel of John regarding Martha, Mary and the illness and death of Lazarus has always been a troubling one for me. The scriptures tell us that they were close friends of Jesus and yet when they sent the urgent message to him, it was four days before Jesus shows up at their home. Where was the compassion that Jesus always showed to others in their need? Both Mary and Martha, when they met Jesus, greeted him with the words, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can hear their pain and disappointment in their words.
The disciples, too, had difficulty understanding the response of Jesus to Martha and Mary’s urgent message. Jesus says to them, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified though it.” Seeing that the disciples were still not understanding, he says to them, “Lazarus has died, and I am glad for you that I was not there, that you might believe.” They set out for Judea to visit Martha and Mary.
What is the lesson for our lives today in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic? How is God glorified through this global crisis? I will list only a few examples where I see God at work, calling his people back to himself, bringing new life into families, communities, businesses, and the world.
We see the world working together to protect lives, keeping in mind the dignity of each person, especially the most vulnerable of our society.
Companies that were competitors are now working together. Ford, 3M and GE are each making parts for the needed ventilators and are converting the assembly line from cars to ventilators.
Could a new paradigm of family life emerge from the Stay at Home policy that has been put in place? Families are spending time together, sharing meals, virtual-learning together, and practicing social distancing to save and protect lives.
In the midst of all this suffering, pain, grief, and uncertainty, we also experience surprises from God that seem like miracles, that strengthen our faith and nurture our hope. On the Feast of the Annunciation, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., a long-time worker rediscovered boxes that had been in storage. When they opened the boxes, they found 5,000 N95 masks that had been purchased after the Avian Influenza epidemic ten years ago. They checked with the company to make sure they were still safe to use, and the answer was yes. They immediately sent 3,000 masks to Georgetown Hospital and 2,000 to Children National Hospital. They kept some for priests to use while ministering to the sick. What a gift to these hospitals! Is this God’s way of showing the world that God is present in our midst? Is this Mary’s assurance that she is with us in the suffering and pain?
What is the challenge for our Benedictine Monastic Community in this time of crisis? St. Benedict has some wise words for us, “to keep death daily before our eyes.” Through our prayers we can be in solidarity with healthcare workers and first responders who risk their lives each day to protect us. It is an opportunity to use this extended time away from the business of life for reflection and an extended retreat. Listen for opportunities for selfless sacrifice to serve the common good, to live our lives in a spirit of hope.
Recently a speaker closed his presentation with this comment. “Remember, there is one thing that is more contagious than the COVID-19 virus and that is hope.” Henri Nouwen notes, “Hope frees us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us.”