Reflection in time of quarantine

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I am an optimistic by nature, but if the pessimist in me can be of any use to shake me up from slumber, then so be it! 

COVID-19: Is there a piece of current news that does not speak about this new pandemic? Not a virus effecting some poverty-stricken country, but one that seems to target the well off, those who have the means, those technically prepared, the untouchables.

Is this a punishment from God for our mischiefs? I do not follow this line of belief. When Jesus was asked a similar question by the Jews he responded: “[Do you think that] … those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Lk 13: 4-5

However, all creation and its events do whisper, speak or shout the love and concern of the Father. Yes, God is there for those who believe and are willing to discern His call amidst this chaos. But I also think that very few will really get it and make out of this Chronos (time) the Kairos (the appointed time in the purpose of God). For many this will remain a time to get over and done with so that we can start doing what we knew best – get alienated. Like in the time of the prophet Amos when they were saying: “When will the new moon be over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, And to cheat with dishonest scales.Amos 8:5

But it takes some guts to claim that this is a holy time, which compares to when we proclaim that the cross is holy. There is nothing holy in suffering and it is natural for us humans to want to move on and forget all about it. We did that with a sorry sequence of miserable wars and conflicts in history, learning nothing in the process about how we are called to treat all as brothers and sisters.

There are a lot of people, professionals on the forefront, who are sacrificing themselves for others during this time of pandemic. We clap for them.

I’ve seen neighbors offering help to the elderly around, volunteers cooking and delivering meals to people living alone. Thumbs up.

I watched common people reinventing themselves in order to cheer up others and keep them company. Heartwarming.

But will it last? Will it last once we touch the breaking point of our flexibility? From the corner of my eye I can already see people scrambling over half empty shelves with the sole intention of hoarding; politicians pointing fingers and blaming each other; business minded people playing the savage market game and taking advantage of the vulnerable.

However, all creation and its events do whisper, speak or shout the love and concern of the Father. Yes, God is there for those who believe and are willing to discern His call amidst this chaos. But I also think that very few will really get it and make out of this Chronos (time) the Kairos (the appointed time in the purpose of God).

So, for those who really want to let it be a Kairos, hold tight, hang in there, learn and stay open so that what we are passing through does in fact get to touch somewhere deep within. My suggestion is not to rush and explain things using the old manner of things but to be open for an overhaul in how we live our human relationships and our relationship with God.

I was struck by what happened in the first weeks when we realized that the virus is real and that it knows no borders. The news was reporting how people started to hoard toilet paper. For me this is a case in point of how we try to deal with a new problem using our mindset. If we really believe that this is a serious time where we need to stock, food is the issue not what happens with it after consumption! Ask the poverty-stricken people what is their priority when they end locked in with no income and means to buy basics. Toilet paper is a luxury: yet, most of us, who have never crossed the threshold of poverty tend to drag in with us what we think is essential in a prosperous time into the time of need.

Permit me to apply this to us as Church. Many of us Catholics are accustomed to a ritualistic religion which for many boils down to the mass. Actually, this mass gathering, for many is a passive participation and it rarely touches base. Yet, for many centuries, it was the measuring stick of faith. Our knee jerk reaction in this time of social distancing and closed worship places, is to flood the social media with masses. While I have nothing against it, why don’t we question if this is the Kairos moment when we realize that our faith is much more than amassing masses. Maybe, it is time that rather than using the old patterns which sufficiently served us right till now, we explore new forms of liturgy which are not heavily dependent on the priest. One example is the liturgy of the Word celebrated in a household. Can God be shouting in our ears in this time of uncertainty to hand back the responsibility of faith to the domestic Church?

I have a feeling, from my own personal experience, that as humans we do not change much through our intellect. In most cases our mind is good in vesting reality with prefabricated reasoning or worst provide excuses to defend our comfortable zones. But there is nothing like chaos which challenges our status quo. For those who are keen to grow, this time of unknown is the opportunity to call our bluff and shed off all superficiality and dependencies, which pile high. God is giving us a glimpse of humanity on its knees. Do I wait it out or do I grasp the moment to make it a time of re-creation? Do we allow God to show us a better way of living (repentance) or we prefer to press on with our strength – hoping for the best? Jesus tells us that if we lose the grace of the moment (Kairos) then worst things will happen.

Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

Matthew 13: 52

This is the time to take stock and do away with what is superfluous in our lives, in our relationships, in our faith, and treasure what is essential. In this time of chaos, we shout with God, and like true missionaries we “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Tim 4:2

Fr Mark Grima, is the MSSP Superior General.