This is the second time in my life as a priest that I’ve been at a church that has been closed by government order. The first time was when I was in Jamaica in 2010. The Jamaican government ordered the army to control West Kingston to locate and take into custody a gang leader, and declared martial law. Along with everything else, all churches in Kingston were closed because of security concerns which meant people could not leave their homes. Two of us remained at the Jesuit church which was in the middle of the fighting between the army and the gangs. In many ways. I found that experience much easier than the experience we’re all now going through. Then, there was clarity – the Christian action was to remain faithful, to remain present within the violence. This also made me feel courageous, like a hero. But now the feeling is different.
Things aren’t nearly as clear and concrete. I don’t feel like a hero – I’ve locked the doors of the church and closed the Food Bank! We are told by our government leaders that with our actions we can “flatten the curve,” that is, to hopefully limit the number of victims to the virus. At the same time, perhaps harder to discern through press conferences, staggering numbers, graphs for the best and worst case scenarios is the Christian voice. As the psalmist writes this week, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” When all “non-essential” businesses were closed last week, I was immediately angry by the explicit insult. How can the Church and the practice of one’s faith through the sacraments be judged as “non-essential?” When we gather as a community to worship God, to give him thanks and to pray for his help, we’re not playing make believe. We are doing something that is necessary, is real and is powerful. Yet, after the initial anger, I was able to understand the health concerns and care shown by the government. But as Christians, we do not simply wait out the crisis in accordance with instructions. Rather we look for the meaning that God is giving in this time. We “wait for the Lord” and seek to work with him in the building of his Kingdom.
Last Sunday we heard the story of the man born blind and how God gave meaning to the man’s suffering through the revelation that Jesus is Lord. Likewise, the story this week also reveals the divinity and glory of Christ. In a similar way, in these days of “lockdown” our Christian mission remain – to reveal the Kingship of the Lord Jesus. The difficulty is that our Christian activity doesn’t appear to us as courageous or heroic. It seems that our Christian duty, to love God and our neighbour, entails to do nothing, to isolate ourselves from others in our homes. This time holds in embryo the most powerful moment of Christian opportunity. In this moment of global suffering, God is giving us a momentous call – faith filled love that cannot be seen. In other words, to be transformed by Christ and into Christ. As St. Paul writes, “you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Our isolation, our fasting from the sacraments is not self-protection, it is powerful and uncompromising loving. We isolate from friends and even older family members from love. We give a love that does not require a return of affection. We isolate from co-workers or fellow students from love. We give a love that does not require a return of recognition. We isolate ourselves from the sacraments from love. We give love to God for God’s own sake, so we are not just “twiddling our thumbs.” We are listening to God’s voice. We are obeying God’s Word. We are responding to Christ’s question – “I am the resurrection and the life. . . Do you believe this?” Through our loving, we are saying in action what Martha said in words: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” In this time perhaps the words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola best express our mission: “Dear Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.”