Live-Streamed (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
April 12, 2020
The Delusion of Omnipotence
On Good Friday, Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Papal Household, spoke of the current pandemic as a human tragedy, used by God to awaken humanity. “The coronavirus pandemic [he said] has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence.” And he added: “It took merely the most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.”
Those sobering words remind us that our struggle with COVID-19 is far from over. While we pray for effective treatments and the development of a vaccine, we must recognize that, for now, this virus continues to threaten us. Like an invisible enemy, it spreads furtively, from person to person, and is transmitted even by those who exhibit no symptoms.
Fr. Cantalamessa also reminds us that, for all our prowess, we’re not invincible. The pace of human progress is nothing less than amazing. Yet our hold on life is tenuous, and our prosperity is fragile, and the ability of nature to confound us is never-ending. My friends, we’re not all-powerful, but there is One who is: Our Risen Lord. In our need, we turn to him on this Easter day.
From Contagion to Contagion
We turn to Jesus, God’s Son, who assumed our humanity, “who suffered, died, and was buried, and rose again on the third day.” Let us beseech the Risen Lord to take this scourge from us, even as we pray for the dead and for those who are ill, and for their caregivers. I dare to say, however, that our prayer will not be heard if we simply ask the Lord just to make it all go away so that we can go back to business as usual. Make no mistake: this is a wake-up call; it is God’s way of getting our attention. God did not will this human tragedy; but he does want it to change us. He does want to dispel the illusion that we’re self-sufficient and in total control. Let us confess our dependence on the Lord, our need for his guidance and help, and most of all, our need for the Lord Himself.
So, what would you think of a prayer that went like this? Suppose that, even as we ask the Lord to remove this contagion from us, we were to ask him to replace it with another kind of contagion, a contagion of hope, a contagion that spreads far and wide the Good News of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
Jesus’ Risen Life
That was, after all, the news which greeted Jesus’ closest followers as they approached Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning: “Do not be afraid … He has been raised from the dead.” To be sure, the Risen Lord emerged from the tomb in his human body, a body that continued to bear the marks of his suffering and death. But now his humanity was clothed with immortality, radiant with God’s glory – for Jesus was raised from the dead by the glorious, life-giving Spirit of the Father. The Good News is that, in bursting forth from the tomb, Christ opened the door – opened the door for the transformation of our humanity – beginning with Baptism. For, as St. Paul says: “We were indeed buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” [Rom. 6:4]. We still struggle with our mortality, our vulnerabilities, and our inclination to sin. But in Baptism the seeds of immortality have been planted in our hearts, and so, even now we can begin living a new kind of life, an imperishable life, a life that reflects the ultimate victory of God’s self-giving love over sin and death.
If the Risen Lord’s new life takes hold of us, if we are, you might say, “infected” by it, then we will see it spread to every dimension of our existence—body, mind, and spirit. If allowed to grow in us, Jesus’ new and risen life will attack and undermine the defenses we have built up over time to justify our sinfulness and spiritual lethargy. If allowed to grow in us, Jesus’ new and risen life will convert pessimism into hope, selfishness into generosity, hatred and prejudice into reconciling love. This good “virus”, Jesus’ risen life, will change us from the inside out, purifying even the secret thoughts of our inmost hearts. It will change how we pray and how we relate to our families, friends, and colleagues. It will give us a passion to do justice for the downtrodden, and bend even our stubborn wills to embrace the peace found only in God’s will.
How the Contagion Spreads
Not unlike the bad virus wreaking such havoc among us, the good “virus” of Jesus’ new and risen life is not seen directly by the human eye. Nonetheless, it is utterly real and supremely potent and eminently contagious. How, then, does this contagion of hope spread from person to person?
We see it happening already in the Scripture readings proclaimed today. Mary Magdalene was the first to bring the news of Christ’s Resurrection to Peter and John and the other disciples. Peter and John, in turn, ran to the tomb to see for themselves – John, the writer of the Gospel attests that “he saw and believed”. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaims the Good News. Commissioned by Jesus to preach to the people, Peter and the Apostles were wildly successful in spreading the faith. Today we’d say that their preaching “went viral”. In Colossians, St. Paul urges us to be permanently “infected” with the Gospel: “If you were raised with Christ, [he says] seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” [Col. 3:1-2].
Preaching is a prime carrier of this good infection but so too are the Sacraments by which the new life of Christ is transmitted to us through sacred signs. These days, when we greatly miss celebrating the Mass and the Sacraments together, we can appreciate, perhaps as never before, their importance in our lives: their power to draw us ever closer to our Savior and to one another in the Church; their power to help us overcome sin and to fill us with the new life Jesus won for us.
Prayer – prayer is a powerful way to spread this contagion of hope. Being confined to our homes makes us restless but it’s also an opportunity to develop our life of prayer, especially to pray together as a family, and to pray in the privacy of our own hearts. Prayer is the source of many blessings for ourselves, our Church, and our world – and it also makes us “carriers” of the new life which Jesus won for us.
Finally, this good contagion of Jesus’ life and love spreads by the witness of our lives. Pope St. Paul VI said that people listen “more willingly to witnesses than to teachers” and St. John Henry Newman prayed that he would “shine” on those around him, that he would preach … not by words but “by the catching force” of good example. All of us, dear friends, can be “carriers” of this contagion of hope by our example, by the depth and sincerity of our faith and by our charity and concern for those in need.
Let us indeed pray in Jesus’ name for a swift end to this terrible pandemic. But let us also pray that, as this scourge is lifted from us, the contagion of hope, hope in Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, will spread, from person to person, from family to family, from parish to parish, looking towards that day when we will be together again to celebrate the Easter Sacraments in joy and newness of life. Happy Easter! And may the Risen Lord bless you and keep you always in his love!