Sunday, March 15, 2020

Love in the Time of Cholera - Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (A)

 While in the desert, the Israelites thirsted for water. And in their thirst, they asked this question:

Is God in our midst or is He not?

The Samaritan woman also thirsted for water and also dwelt in the desert, a spiritual one, of meaninglessness and lost love. And in that thirst, she too asked that question:

Is this Jesus 'God in our midst' or is He not?

In both instances, hope does not disappoint: to their thirst, God provided miraculous and renewing water: for the Israelites, it was water from a rock; for the Samaritan woman, it is the Holy Spirit poured forth into her heart.

Hope did not disappoint. God was in their midst. And in that, there was renewal.


In the days ahead, we may also pose the same question. Is God in our midst or is He not?

Historically, plagues and pestilences have been occasions wherein God provides His people opportunity to repent and to grow in holiness-- in a word, to be renewed.

I was thinking of this fact as I was laying down in the second pew of our parish church the other day. (I hope it doesn’t scandalize you that I was doing that!). I was just laying down in the pew because I was tired and, well, the afternoon’s activities had all been cancelled, ... and I just wanted to be in my Father’s house.

And as I was laying there, I heard the birds outside. I hadn’t really paid attention to singing birds in quite some time. It was beautiful, actually. It was a little hint that Spring was almost here.

“Goodness, Lord," I began to pray, "how busy I have been, that I haven’t paid attention to the beauty of your creation around me in some time." God does this to me sometimes: He wakes me up by nature and, most times, it alerts me to a spiritual sickness-- in this case, busy-ness-- that sometimes keeps me from Him and His simple, yet beautiful things.

And so I thought and prayed some more. And I saw a connection with these days where many are worried not so much about spiritual sickness, but physical sickness....

And when it comes to physical sickness-- the flu, for example-- I never have time time for it. I’m busy/ “I can’t get sick now,” I say to myself. This stupid flu is slowing me down...!

That’s what sickness does: it puts an end to our schedules, our busy-ness, and we are just stuck there, on our backs, forcibly given a moment to reflect, to pray, and perhaps to re-prioritize life such that, when we are healthy again, we will focus on those more important things and not on the things that had us wandering in the desert of meaninglessness, searching and thirsting for the drink of actual Life.

In the case of a society facing plague, historically, it is an occasion wherein God provides His people the opportunity to slow down and to think. And this, if we allow it, can then translate into true repentance and growth in holiness.

In particular, I think our society is given this moment for repentance and holiness concerning three things-- three things that all have to do with God's presence.


The first thing is the Eucharist.

In these days of plague, yes, it may happen that some public Masses are cancelled. It hasn’t happened here and, if it does, I know that us priests will still be offering Holy Mass every day. But, at the very least, we know that throughout the world, there are many Catholics who do not have Holy Mass on this Sunday. 

This should give us pause.

God, while He has not actively willed this (or, so I do not think), He does allow such things. And the reason is the reason I just mentioned: to repent and to grow in holiness.

To repent of what?

Well, let's all admit it: all of us—you and me both—have, at some point or another, taken Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist for granted. He has been here all week in the tabernacle and at every Holy Mass-- and there are times that we have forgotten that. Casually overlooked Sunday or received Him with lukewarmness and inattention. God forbid, but some have even received in mortal sin (which, as St. Paul notes in his eleventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, has consequences). 

We have been posed with the question, "Is God in our midst?" and we have answered in ways that need purifying.

Some may say that bishops who have cancelled Mass have themselves been lukewarm. To this, I would simply say: perhaps. And perhaps they are just like us.

What we do have control over is our own heart. And in this season, there is an opportunity to repent and be healed of any spiritual illnesses we have had regarding the Eucharist-- an opportunity, I pray, that will lead us to a deeper and more fervent desire for more frequent visits to Jesus in the tabernacle, more fervent receptions of Holy Communion, and a total curing of our hearts such that we wouldn't even think of missing Sunday Mass again.

To use Jesus' words from the Gospel, I hope that, after this, we will be renewed and will truly “worship God in Spirit and in Truth” and not in routine or in hurry as has so often marked our Holy Sacrifice, the source and summit of our faith; for is God here in our midst or is He not?


The second place where I believe the plague is giving us an opportunity is our community.

Earlier this week, I was startled by the very first time when the Sign of Peace was absent from our Holy Mass. I wondered to God: “God, why is this, too, taken away from us?” I prayed this as I also saw many pews empty because of “social distancing.”

The answer to my question was immediate and it cut me to the core: Father, we have been social distancing for a long, long time.

The busy-ness, the texting and social media (even while out at restaurants, supposedly partaking in community!), the constant distraction into entertainment (how stark has been the absence of sports!)—to say nothing about the political climate that preceded (and to some degree continues) in these days—we have been socially distant from each other for a while.

And our Sign of Peace—well, let’s be honest: has it really been a full-hearted embrace of forgiveness towards those who have hurt us—or, more, has it ever been a searching out and asking for forgiveness from those whom we have hurt?

My prayer is that, after these days are over, we may see a renewal of community. No longer distracted by the entertainments that so suck up our time, I have hope that we will once again give ourselves to the things that matter: our family, our parish community, our friends. I pray that the Sign of Peace may a true time of conversion and not an empty handshake.

We have been too afraid of real reconciliation-- much more so than we are currently afraid of germs.

We need to repent of this. And grow in holiness. For, when it comes to community, Is God in our midst or is He not? When two or three are gathered in His name, is He here or not?


Thirdly, and finally, the third way we are being given an opportunity is by the fact that this virus is taking a toll on our elderly and our poor and the vulnerable.

As many public school close, we must be aware that so too close many children’s opportunity for breakfast. It’s a painful reality, but that’s the truth.

And, more, as many nursing homes turn away those of us who visit the elderly, many of our elderly will go unvisited. And, here’s the painful truth: many of them, if they were not visited by a rare handful of souls, would not be visited at all.

I pray that this is a time when we repent and break free of our narcissistic lives and start looking for those who are vulnerable.

How easy it is for us Catholics—especially those of us in wealthy parishes—to forget about whole segments of our city and state that are poor and isolated and vulnerable.

I am convinced that many of us would be happier if we broke free of our personal pursuits (which are really just fake imposters for happiness) and took time to encounter the poor and elderly. True happiness and holiness is found there. For is God in our midst there or is He not? After all, He himself said: whatever you did to these least, you did to me.


Your thirst in these days will not be quenched by Netflix. Nor by busy-work. Nor by the internet.

It will only be quenched by coming to the well of Jesus’ love and asking Him for a drink—by answering the question: Is Jesus here with me as I read this, as I go throughout my day—or is He not?

The societal sickness will slow you down. And you will have a few less distractions. And, in that moment, the Holy Spirit will nudge your conscience to pray, to reflect, to receive, and to be renewed.

I never expected that we would all be giving up some of the things we are giving up this Lent. But, as I've learned, the best "fasts" are oftentimes those given to us.

I have hope for us all. And hope does not disappoint.

It is Lent, after all. And that is what is so truly amazing about this: that God has allowed these historic days to fall in the holiest season of our Church’s year: in the very season when we are called to repent and to grow in holiness. Let us pray for that and hope in that. Let us proclaim with the Samaritan woman:

“Yes, Lord, you are in our midst, we know that you are truly the Savior of the world.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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