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(Part 14)


April 14, 2020

Today’s readings
Acts 2:36-41
Psalm 33:4-5,18-19,20,22
John 20:11-18

COVID-19 rages on. One of the major negative effects for us Catholics is the non-availability of the sacraments, especially Mass and Holy Communion. We may identify with the sorrow of Mary Magdalene, who wept at the death of Jesus, and now at the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb. “They have taken my Lord” (Jn 20:13b). For us today, both Church and civil authorities have taken from us, or have deprived us of, our Lord. Church authorities have closed churches and suspended Masses, literally depriving us of the body of Jesus. Some civil authorities penalize Christians who are at parking lots for church service and to hear a sermon, even as they remain in their cars and practice social distancing. Deprived of the Word and the word, that brings much sorrow.

Now Jesus appeared to Mary, who then “went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (Jn 20:18). How many Catholics have actually seen Jesus, or have most of them remained blind? Many are no longer practicing. Many are lukewarm in their faith. Many do not show adequate reverence for the Eucharist. Not having access to the Eucharist is for us a great loss, but given the circumstances over which we laypeople have no control, we must cling on to faith, even as we are unable to cling on to that blessed host. After all, Jesus had told Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29).

But if we do see, then we “know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36). Do Catholics see that Jesus is Lord? Then we should obey him in everything. Do Catholics see that it is our sins that sent him to the cross to be crucified? Then we should stop sinning. Do Catholics see that Jesus is the Messiah? Then we must look to him, and only him, for our salvation. Fullness of life is only in Jesus, and certainly not in the things that the world values and people run after.

Then “what are we to do” (Acts 2:37)? As many of today’s people of God are nothing more than baptized pagans, we need to heed what Peter told the people, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). Now we know that most Catholics were baptized as infants. As such, our original sin was washed away and we received the Holy Spirit. But we also know that most adult Catholics today, having been baptized and also confirmed, are not fully living out the faith.

So what are we to do? First, we must repent of sin. And we must strive not to sin again. Second, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a renewed infilling that happens through the so-called baptism in the Spirit. For us in MFC and for those we try to reach, these two things happen with the help of a program called the Christian Life Seminar (CLS) or the Life in Christ Seminar (LCS). The crucial aspects of this seminar, which are often not included or not emphasized in other Church programs, recollections, seminars, catechetical instruction, retreats and conferences, are the aspects of repentance (in the true sense of metanoia or a total turn-around of one’s life) and baptism in the Spirit. But these two are the most basic and lay the foundation for everything else.

Now Peter also said, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40b). If his generation then was corrupt, it is much more so now. Today we have widespread apostasy by Catholics, the rapid advance of the culture of death, vicious assaults on faith, family and life, modernism, LGBT,sexual immorality of clergy, and even Satanism. Today we have in a massive way the sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance. In particular, these are abortion,[1] sodomy[2] and social injustice.[3] All these have been happening for decades, but much more so now. They cry out to heaven for vengeance.

And so now we have COVID-19. It is chastisement from God. I believe that it is not yet time for the final judgment, but that it is a not-so-gentle reminder, a lesson that needs to be learned. The Lord “loves justice and right.” (Ps 33:5a). People in the world have not done right but have done great wrongs. As justice is to give to someone what is his due, and as the sins of the world cry out to God for vengeance, is not God acting in justice to afflict the world with COVID-19?

But the other truth is that “the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.” (Ps 33:5b). This one verse has the back-to-back virtues of justice and mercy. They are two sides of the same coin. God is just, but God is merciful. God punishes, but God also withholds punishment. In both instances, it is about God who loves.

So what are we to do? The world is focused on defeating COVID-19 by various means, and rightly so. But what most needs to happen is for people to repent of their sins and turn back to God. Starting with the people of God, members of the one true faith. Starting with Catholics, members of the one true Church.

We have just finished Lent and Holy Week. Jesus is risen. As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, we need to repent and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And we must fear not so much COVID-19, but the God who has power over it. And we look not so much to the cure or vaccine to be developed, but to the mercy of God. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, upon those who count on his mercy.” (Ps 33:18). We keep our eye on the Lord, even as we do not see him physically, and the Lord’s eye is upon us.

What will happen? God’s desire, in His mercy, is “to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive through famine.” (Ps 33:19). In our particular case today, “through this pandemic.”God does want to save us. But ultimately, salvation is about our souls. We may die of COVID-19 but if we are in a state of grace, then we will go to heaven. But what we really need is for our souls to be saved from eternal death. This is why God’s chastisement is severe for a world deep in darkness and sin.

May the world learn the divine lesson through COVID-19. May there be the start of conversion and transformation in Christ. May the world realize that ultimately human wisdom and power are not what deliver us, but only God. “Our soul waits for the Lord, he is our help and shield.” (Ps 33:20). May the world realize that ultimately our hope is not in a vaccine or cure,[4] but our hope is only in God and His mercy. “May your mercy, Lord, be upon us; as we put our hope in you.” (Ps 33:22).

* * *

[1] In general, this sin is the killing of the innocent. It would include murder, homicide, infanticide, euthanasia. The first murder was that of Abel by his brother Cain. God said to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Gn 4:10).
[2]Sodomy is unnatural sex between two males or between two females. God said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down to see whether or not their actions are as bad as the cry against them that comes to me.” (Gn 18:20-21). Some have said that the sin of Sodom was actually not homosexuality but neglect of the poor. While social injustice is certainly a sin that cries out to heaven, in this case it was more of homosexual depravity. Jude says, “Likewise, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7).
[3]This includes various ways by which the poor are oppressed. With regard to widows and orphans, who were the very poor and marginalized at that time: “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword” (Ex 22:21-22). With regard to withholding wages from the laborer: “Otherwise the servant will cry to the Lord against you, and you will be held guilty.” (Dt 24:15). “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” (Jas 5:4).
[4] We do pray for such a cure or vaccine, but even this will be due to the Lord’s mercy and provision. Further, the cure or vaccine will resolve COVID-19, but not the darkness of our souls. If so, will a greater and more deadly chastisement be far behind?

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