This post is not for everyone and some people might find the thoughts I’m about to offer difficult. So if you’d rather not be challenged in the midst of the COVID-19 threat and its consequences it might be a good idea if you read no further.
But for those who are prepared to face a challenging reality as an opportunity for greater maturity of faith, read on.
is positive thinking the best way forward?
In recent days a number of well-intentioned social media users have encouraged people to look on the positive side of the Coronavirus emergency. I read one comment today “We will get through this, we always do, think positive, look on the bright side.”
That approach contrasts with last night’s news headline as Aotearoa New Zealand moves towards lock-down with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern giving a message entitled “A blunt message. The facts laid bare”.
Thanks be to God for a challenging and necessary message, even if it’s laid-bare-blunt and unwelcome.
face the fact – all humans die
We are not helped by taking on board the word of those who may be masking their own fears with a Pollyannaish power of positive thinking. The fact is that we do not know how this COVID-19 crisis is going to turn out.
It’s difficult to live with uncertainty. But uncertainty is often our human reality and the mature person of faith will seek Christ in the reality of the uncertainty rather than grasping at artificial hope.
Christian faith is not a method of looking on the bright side. Christian faith is life with Christ who has shown us that death and the things that feel like death, are not the end for the one who lives with Jesus Christ.
Christianity enables us to confront reality however unwanted and unwarranted that reality is.
In the threat of these days we are having to face our fear of death. Every person who has ever lived has died or will die. But Jesus Christ has shown us that death is a transition not an end. Therefore the daily circumstances in which we taste death are not to be feared but to be lived with a confidence that death (and experiences like grief, anxiety and loss of security in which we taste death) are the pathway to the life we have been created for. The one who has not lived through suffering, loss and death cannot experience resurrection.
In a dozen decades (even without a virus) every person who is reading this FFF post will have died. This might be an unwelcome reminder and it is certainly a blunt statement, but you can’t deny that I am stating a fact.
Remember the quotation I used yesterday from a friend:
“This health emergency is screaming that I’m not in control. Today, I cannot go where I want, I’m told to change my work routine without end in sight. A few days ago it dawned on me that my health, and the health of those I love, can be at risk at any moment. Suddenly, I realised that my health, my life is not in my hands.”
now real hope can begin
I’m not sure how you are feeling at this point, but whenever I face facts I feel a bit of relief since it takes a lot of energy to keep ignoring reality.
This happens for me because the facts I’m facing usually come out in my prayer. If I am feeling angry I pray angry. If I feel despairing I pray despairingly. If I feel lonely I pray like a lonely person calling on Jesus as a beggar desperate for everything.
And it works since Jesus never misses the chance to respond to my honesty and humbly expressed need. This is the reason for my hope. The fact that I am facing reality gives me direction, and my knowledge that I am not alone gives me confident and well-founded hope.
Prayers from almost 3000 years ago
Every day I pray the in the Prayer of the Church (the Breviary or Office), but also the psalm response to the first reading at Mass. The writers of these from-the-heart ancient prayers (which were prayed by heart by Jesus) were not afraid to express the breadth and depth of their human reality. They poured it all out without holding back. Take for example the opening of a psalm from today’s Office of Readings:
Lord, listen to my prayer
and let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me:
whenever I am troubled,
turn to me and hear me.
Whenever I call on you,
hurry to answer me.
For my days vanish like smoke,
and my bones are dry as tinder.
My heart is cut down like grass, it is dry –
I cannot remember to eat.
The sound of my groaning
makes my bones stick to my flesh.
I am lonely as a pelican in the wilderness,
as an owl in the ruins,
as a sparrow alone on a rooftop:
I do not sleep.
All day long my enemies taunt me,
they burn with anger and use my name as a curse.
I make ashes my bread,
I mix tears with my drink,
My days fade away like a shadow:
I wither like grass.
And then notice the conclusion of the prayer which shows that, now that the complaint and pain is expressed, the Lord is responding and giving hope:
But you, Lord, remain for ever
and your name lasts from generation to generation.
Now notice the same pattern in the psalm of today’s Mass:
God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.
The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;
God will help it at the dawning of the day.
The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.
To quote from yesterday’s post “when we turn to Jesus with the humble desperation of a beggar, then we are inviting Jesus to work miracles of healing. growth and renewal in us.” This is mature faith, not us having made ourselves successful and presentable and ready, but a disposition of humble acknowledgement that without Jesus we are robots in existence rather than humans living abundant and heart-felt life.
- Become aware of how the current crisis is making you more aware of your dependance on Jesus.
- If you were to write your own psalm today, how would you begin to passionately express your need for Jesus. Be specific…what is your concern: health, financial, ageing, family…
- Today’s Mass readings at this link.