Perfect Love (Agape) Casts Out Fear (1 Jn4:18)
By Fr. Nicholas Harding, OMI March, 2020
If this terrible pandemic had to happen, Lent is a “fortuitous” time: an opportunity for purification (not just of the hands), for conversion (re-order priorities, attitudes), it’s a wake up call that God is in charge (=fear of the Lord, one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of wisdom), for reparation (“offer it up”), a period of austerity and self-denial (which even if not initially voluntary can be graciously accepted).
The ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday (in the sign of the cross -cf. Ez 9:4,6-meaning hope) to begin Lent signify our fragility and eventual death …. leading us to humility (despite technology we are still limited, weak creatures). Ashes were put on by repentant Israelites as a sign of admission of being “dirty” …. now we recall sin, like this virus, spreads invisibly and is highly contagious, potentially causing eternal death.
Lent is a time of testing (first Sunday of Lent) and to not fall into temptations of undue fear and anxiety, and never despair. It is an opportunity for self-examination: Have I been taking my blessings (e.g. good health, economic prosperity, freedom) for granted? Lack of gratitude? Wasteful (now even toilet paper is a precious commodity, and people out of panic and self-interest have been fighting over it)? Above all: am I in a state of grace? Do I have the same horror for the pestilence of sin as I do for this virus? Am I as preoccupied for cleanliness of soul and stopping the spread of moral wickedness as with the peril of Covid-19? Am I avoiding the near occasion of being contaminated by evil? Am I protecting my spiritual health with the “vaccine” and “immunity” for the soul of ardently practicing my faith with the sanctifying grace of sacraments esp. with “CARE” = Confession, Adoration, Rosary, Eucharist? Is this calamity stimulating me to be more pro-life? Do I have solidarity, willing to be part of collective self-sacrifice, rather that self-interest?
Anyone afflicted with the virus would do well to “offer it up” as did St Therese with her TB (Col. 1:24; 1 Peter 4:13).
It is noteworthy that so far it seems the virus has affected the affluent as much as ordinary folks.
When a priest friend (a man not prone to hysteria) recently asked me if I think this is the pale green horse of Apocalypse 6: 8, I replied we need to keep perspective. We remember in the long history of the Church, which has always been a kind of clinic and hospital, trusting in the Divine Physician, eventually the crises have passed and we got through them (pestilence in the Old Testament, Bubonic plague in the fourteenth century, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic). We trust for the fulfillment of “everything works for the good” (Rom 8:28) for those who love God…even pain and suffering from a dreadful virus.
One of the patron saints for plagues is the 9th Century martyr St Corona. A great prayer is the Sub Tuum (“We fly to your patronage…Holy Mother of God.), especially for heroic caregivers and small businesses. One of the Virgin’s titles in the litany is “Health of the Sick.” Of course, the Divine Mercy Novena with the chaplet (“coronilla”) is very apt and powerful. Let’s invoke St Joseph. The Serenity Prayer (prudence but not ungodly worry) is excellent.
It behooves us to intensify, for the world, our Lenten penitential practices of prayer, fasting and good works…. to overcome sin, dissipate inordinate fright and distress, so as to have faith, hope, agape and peace as we seriously prepare the renewal of our Baptism, trusting in the power of the glorious Resurrected Christ Jesus.
After the Resurrection, Jesus promised “Behold, I am with you always…” (Mt 28:20).
Fr. Nicholas Harding, OMI is a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. “Since December of 2019, Fr Nick has been temporarily assigned to the San Fernando, CA Apostolic Community,” ministering at the parishes of St. Ferdinand and Santa Rosa.