3rd Sunday of Lent
Live-Streamed Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Mar. 15, 2020
Unease and Fear
We are united in prayer this Sunday at a moment unprecedented in living memory. As the Coronavirus continues to spread, we are facing a global pandemic, a pandemic that has hit home, here in the State of Maryland. Currently more than 30 people in our State are known to be infected with the virus but we are told the number of people actually infected is much higher. To date, there is neither a vaccine nor a cure, and, as a result, many, especially the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, are at risk. This naturally causes us to be deeply concerned not only for our own health, but above all for the health and well-being of our families and loved ones.
This rapidly moving pandemic has led to closures and cancellations, the interruption of our daily routines and travel, and threats to our livelihood. The volatility of the financial markets and the empty store shelves are indicators that a deep uneasiness, if not a sense of panic, has overtaken our society.
Medical experts and government officials continue to recommend measures to keep us safe and to prevent the spread of the virus. No doubt you’ve been following all this; I would only urge you, as I urge myself, to take those directives to heart— both for your own sake and for the sake of others. I’m neither a prophet nor a medical expert, but I believe this crisis become much worse before it eases up.
In the meantime, however, what should we do to maintain our spiritual health? For whom and for what should we pray? What benefits can we draw through prayer? Are there spiritual lessons to be learned from this, and ways we can grow in holiness? It is these questions which I’d like to address with you for a few moments.
A Time for Prayer
First, just as we are urged to take care of our physical health amid this crisis, so too we are urged to take good care of our spiritual health. Even though you are unable to attend Sunday Mass in person or to take part in the Lenten Stations of the Cross or other devotions, please continue to pursue your life of prayer vigorously; please stay close to the Lord Jesus and to his Church.
One primary way we stay close to the Lord and to the Church is through daily prayer. Our prayer doesn’t have to be elaborate or lengthy but these days we should make a point of setting aside additional time for prayer. For whom and for what should we pray? We should surely ask the Lord to grant eternal life and peace to those who have already succumbed to the virus. We should pray for those who are currently struggling with it, and for those who have it, but have not yet been diagnosed. Naturally, we will want to pray for our families and loved ones and for all whose lives are being disrupted by this crisis. And let us pray earnestly for researchers and healthcare providers and for public officials who must make difficult decisions in this time of crisis. While we’re at it, let’s not forget to pray for the poor, the needy, and the vulnerable, especially those who do not have access to adequate healthcare.
What is the point of praying to the Lord in this way? Surely the Lord knows that tens of millions of people want nothing more than that this pandemic would come to a swift conclusion. Yet, it remains important for you and for me to pour out our hearts to God in prayer. How often have your own children come to you with some deep need? Chances are it’s something you were already very much aware of – yet, the very fact that your children opened their hearts to you in time of need also opened wide the doors of intimacy, understanding, and trust. Yes, the Lord knows our needs and, let us be clear, his ways are not our ways. Yet when we ask him for what we need and for the needs of others, we draw near to him and his wisdom and love are poured into our hearts. Prayer lifts us up and helps us see our problems, including a crisis such as this, not merely from our own limited perspective and interests, but indeed through the lens of God’s wisdom and love. Looking through that lens leaves no room for scuffles in stores or hoarding!
But let us linger over the benefits of prayer for a moment longer. For when we confide our needs to the Lord in sincere and heartfelt prayer, we expand our capacity to trust in the provident love of God. I think we’d all admit that trust is something that is hard to come by in times of crisis. It can be easy to say that we trust in God when things are going well; but the real test of our trust in God comes when things seem to be falling apart. So, the days and weeks ahead are in fact an opportunity to grow in our trust of God. Even as we experience the hardships this crisis imposes upon us, we must not forget that Jesus has experienced the full measure of human suffering; and that the Lord did so out of love for us and for the sake of our salvation. And so, no matter what befalls us, our hope in his love will not disappoint us. In this way we will find the grace to join our sufferings to his, and as we do so, we will come to realize something of the depth and beauty of God’s love for us.
Thirst for God
Let me leave you with a final point drawn from the Gospel in which Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. When we peel back the layers of that beautifully written Gospel passage, we uncover something in the very depths of our inmost being, namely, a deep, unquenchable thirst for God’s love. Clearly the woman at the well, in spite of her many faults, was searching for the One who would slake the thirst in her soul for God’s love. Encountering Jesus, she found the One for whom she had been looking her whole life long. In the days ahead, we may have a bit more time to sort through our busy lives; let us use that time to pay closer attention to this deep-seated thirst in our souls, a thirst we sometimes try to satisfy quite apart from God’s love.
Perhaps we can look at it this way: One piece of medical advice we’re receiving these days is to stay hydrated. If our physical health requires that we drink plenty of water, so too our spiritual health requires that the living water of the Holy Spirit flow freely through our mind, our heart, and our soul. Through Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, God’s love – the love of Jesus crucified and risen – has been poured into our hearts, enabling us not merely to stay alive spiritually but to flourish, to grow in holiness, that is to say, to grow in virtue and in the capacity to love others as God loves us. Growth in holiness doesn’t happen only when times are relatively calm and peaceful; often, we grow in God’s likeness when we are called to love in extraordinary ways, as surely we are being challenged to do in these days.
Mary’s Love for Us
Finally, let us be keenly aware of Our Blessed Mother’s closeness to us. Mary, who stood beneath the Cross and shared fully in Jesus’ sufferings, stands with us, and with people throughout the world who have been affected by the Coronavirus. Now and in the days ahead, let us make it a daily practice to ask Mary’s intercession, and to do so by praying the Rosary or other beautiful and consoling Marian prayers. In this as in so much else, Pope Francis has shown us the way. Some days ago he composed a beautiful prayer appealing for Mary’s help, a prayer which I have adapted as a Novena prayer to be prayed throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the coming days and weeks. I’d like to pray that prayer now and invite you to join with me spiritually as I do so:
“O Mary, you brighten our path as a sign of salvation and of hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who, at the Cross, took part in Jesus’ pain while remaining steadfast in faith. O loving Mother, you know what we need and we are confident that you will provide for us as at Cana in Galilee. Intercede for us with your Son, Jesus, the Divine Physician, for those who have fallen ill, for those who are vulnerable, and for those who have died. Intercede also for those charged with protecting the health and safety of others and for those who are tending to the sick and seeking a cure. Help us, O Mother of Divine Love, to conform to the will of the Father and to do as we are told by Jesus, who took upon himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows, so as to lead us, through the Cross, to the glory of the Resurrection. Amen.”
“Under thy protection we seek refuge, O Holy Mother of God. In our needs, despise not our petitions but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.”