God is our hope in this pandemic
by Diocese of Des Moines | June 2, 2020
By Father John Acrea
Retired parish priest, vocations director and teacher
Never in my life have I seen anything like this COVID-19 pandemic and it’s consequences. I wondered to what it could be compared to help understand it. Then when I saw a news report that showed a street in New York, empty of people and cars, a scene from a science fiction movie came to my mind of the very same thing, streets empty of cars and people. You know how science fiction goes. The aliens come secretly. They begin to sicken and kill people. Nothing works to stop them. The earthlings are helpless. In fear, they seek shelter inside their own homes. Streets are empty, Businesses close. School and playgrounds are deserted.
This pandemic has been like an alien invasion of a sci-fi movie. The invaders are the coronavirus. They kill, they multiply, they spread across the world. Every weapon we have is useless in the fight against them. The only natural defense we have is to hide in our homes, close schools, shutter most businesses, wash our hands, and wear a face mask. Isolate. But, even if we don’t get sick, the side effects of this coronavirus invasion extends far beyond the devastating physical sickness it causes. Emotionally and spiritually, it causes havoc in our lives.
I would like to write about the thoughts and feelings that this pandemic brings to many of us. Now, our thoughts and feelings get all tangled up and can’t be neatly separated, but we all know that emotionally and spiritually we have been changed by the pandemic. Let us look at some of those changes.
- I put fear of catching the virus first on my list. I am 84, have weak lungs and heart disease. For people like me catching the coronavirus is a death sentence. But you don’t have to 84 to fear dying. With the numbers of people dying in the news each day, you can’t help but think of your last hours, the state of your soul, the Four Last Things: Death, judgment, heaven, hell. If fear leads to deeper considerations, it is a good thing.
- I think that the possibility that people we know might die also strikes fear. It could be someone close: mom, dad, brothers, sisters, grandma, grandpa, friends. Our imagination of life without them is bitter and painful.
- Anger is another feeling that comes upon us. We can be mad at the government for a poor response, at China, at God who would permit such a thing as this to strike us. We can be angry with those we are stuck at home with: husband, wife, mom, dad, brothers and sisters. There can be fighting, yelling, name-calling and pouting. We can be angry that the picture of all the things we were planning for the spring, summer, for our jobs, for our kids, have fallen apart. Many high schoolers are upset that social relationships are much less, plans for prom, graduation, college, sports, was really a jig saw puzzle and now and the pieces have been thrown into a heap of confusion and nothing fits together anymore. We can be angry at ourselves because in these confinement situations we fail so often in our desires to do our part, be forgiving, understanding, prayerful. Anger can be directed at our weakness towards temptation in times of boredom.
- There is another emotion that comes when our plans, once solid, are broken up like that jig saw puzzle. This emotion is grief. We can be hurting, sad, sorrowful, teary, despondent.
- Loneliness is another painful feeling that we might be experiencing to a degree we never had before. Person-to-person interaction with our best friends has been cut back to virtual connections. The house is mostly empty. Time drags. You just miss the laughter, joking around, planning things together, sharing heart to heart our inmost thoughts and feelings. It like being stuck on an island with nobody else around. We thirst for companionship that only other people and God can fill.
So is there a way out of this tangle thoughts and emotions that plague us during this pandemic? There is no easy way out, no magic cure that is for sure. But there are ways.
First of all, pray. Now here is the thing with prayer: Pray from exactly where you are hurting. If you are angry with God, talk to him about that. Ask him what is going on? Why dd he let this happen? The same goes for anger towards others and yourself. Bring those angers to him. If you are lonely, tell God what that is like for you. Ask God what he wants to teach you in this pandemic. Maybe he wants your heart to be touched by the fragility of life. That our time will come and we will appear before God. He wants us to be ready. Maybe God is saying, “It is time to shape up. Life is fragile." When it is all said and done we realize that having the heart of Jesus is the most precious thing we can possess.
Next, Turn you focus away from yourself and towards others. Not those far away, but the persons next to you. Forgive them and have mercy on them as God has mercy on you.
- Forgive mom, dad, brothers, sisters, all those you have hurt you in some way.
- Ask forgiveness from them, when you have been a pain in the butt. Get reconciled.
- Forgive yourself from your heart.
- Forgive that one person who has hurt you the most.
- Forgive God.
- Be active in your gratitude, notes, texts, emails and phone calls. Thank people! Tell them why you cherish them.
One of the most important things to pray for is the virtue of hope. Hope is a feeling based on our faith that things will turn out alright. There are good things to come. How do we increase our hope?
- If you think about your life so far you realize that God has done a pretty good job of taking care of you. You have memories of things that just about happened that would have been terrible. For example, most all of us have had a close call while driving. God has taken care of us and loved us during our life. This gives hope that God will take care of us in the future. He is not going to change his love.
- If you listen to the words of Scripture the most used words in all of the Bible are, “Be not afraid.” These are the words spoken to you in these times, “Be not afraid.” This is Jesus talking to you as he talked with his disciples when Jesus was heading toward death and their world was falling apart. He gave them hope and he gives you hope, “Be not afraid.”
- In another place in Scripture, God speaks the following to a people who were losing hope of God’s love in a time of trouble. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ”
Friends, these are hard times for us, for others and for the world. Let the Lord speak to your heart, “Be not afraid.” Let God the Father speak to you, “I have plans to give you hope and a future.”
Lord help us to believe in your love for us. Help us to have love. Help us to have faith. Help us to have hope. Amen.