“More than ever, we need to trust in God’s promise of his constant accompaniment. We need to hear and take to heart God’s Word through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.’”
Fr. Quang Nguyen, SCJ
We invite Dehonians, co-workers and other collaborators in SCJ ministry to share their personal reflections regarding the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in their lives and their communities. The following is from Fr. Quang Nguyen, SCJ, vice-provincial superior of the US Province and province vocation director. A refugee from Vietnam, he compares the challenges that we face today in the midst of the pandemic to those his family had to confront at the end of the American involvement in Vietnam.
Around this time 45 years ago, the news informed Americans that their involvement in Vietnam was officially coming to a close. But for us – the approximately 20 million people of South Vietnam – it was not simply “the news.” It was our lives, lives that were negatively changed forever. Amidst the sound of artillery explosions and the chaotic atmosphere, many unanswerable questions were posed. Would there be a massacre? How would we be treated by the victors? What would our lives look like in the coming days?
I could see terrifying fear and fright in the eyes of my parents and neighbors. In retrospect, I understood why. Gone was the peaceful life that we had. The communists from the North had been known to be brutal to their enemy. How would they treat my father, who was a military officer for the former South Vietnamese Army? Would he face imprisonment, torture, or worse? How would we – the children of the former enemy – be treated? Gone was the planned future that my parents had for themselves and for us. Since the communists did not believe in private enterprise, what would happen to our convenience store? Without any source of income from my father or from the store, how could we live, or pay for education? In short, my parents seemed to have lost all control over their lives and the lives of those entrusted to them.
This uncertain future paralyzed the strong will of many. There was a choice that we had to make: move forward in faith, directly confronting whatever challenges or hardships that might come our way or allow fear to stop us from living.
We chose to live
Our lives definitely changed. Vietnam is no longer our home. It is the place that holds many childhood memories both good and not so good. It is a place where we were born and grew but circumstances denied our right to call it home. America has become our adopted home. It has afforded us freedom and opportunities to pursue our dreams. Vietnamese is not the only language we speak at home; now it is a mixture of Vietnamese and English. My nephews and nieces still speak Vietnamese with a Northern accent like us, but they speak English with an American accent.
One thing that did not change – even in the most horrific moments – was our faith in God. Perhaps faith was the only motivation that propelled us forward. We trusted that all things would be well, and we surrendered our “control” to God because amidst so many evils, there were good people, events, and circumstances that allowed us to see with the eyes of faith the goodness and mercy of God in our lives. We could experience God’s presence at every turn of our lives.
In addition, we did not have to go through our struggles alone. We were very blessed to be surrounded by both immediate and extended family. We had friends whom we could confide in and who were willing to lend support when needed. Most of all, we had our parents who encouraged us to trust in God as we moved forward with our lives despite many challenges and difficulties. They asked us to trust in God’s plan for us even though they might not completely understand what that plan was. I would venture to say that perhaps my parents did not even like the plan that God had for them at that time, but they obeyed and lived the spirit of oblation. Granted, things did not always go in a straight line. There were moments that difficulties and sufferings seemed overwhelming. There were times that we wanted to give up. But in the end, God’s promise of being with His people enabled us to live our lives as best as we could (1 Cor. 10:13).
Fear and anxiety today
Today, in the midst of the pandemic, I see the same terrifying fear and anxiety in the eyes of so many people. It is understandable when each day we learn of the growing number of those infected with COVID-19, those who die of the disease. Recently we learned that more Americans have died from the coronavirus than in the Vietnam War.
An eerie atmosphere of quiet has replaced our normal, bustling life. It is not the quiet of calm. The pandemic brought many things to a grinding halt. It turned upside-down the life that we have known. The future is uncertain. Social distancing has pushed some people further into isolation, compounding fear and loneliness. We look at one another suspiciously, wondering who might be a carrier.
The unseen virus forces us to contemplate unanswerable questions just as my family did 45 years ago in Vietnam.
What will our lives look like in the future? How will it be different? What will be the “new normal” look like? How can we avoid being infected by this deadly virus?
We have choices that we can make. We can allow fear to paralyze us and fall to despair, or we can move forward with trust that God will not give us more than we can handle. We can cocoon ourselves for the sake of protection and safety or we can creatively find ways to be in solidarity with others. We should not live our lives carelessly or foolishly, but we can live our lives while following the recommendations of medical professionals.
Fortunately, we do not have to travel toward an uncertain future alone. None of us is a “lone ranger” or a “single island.” None of us has to move forward on our own.
More than ever, we need to trust in God’s promise of his constant accompaniment. We need to hear and take to heart God’s Word through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” (Is. 41:10) Or through Joshua’s words to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Jos. 1:9)
Furthermore, as SCJs we have one another to rely on, to support each other, to share and challenge one another as we look forward to a better future. (SCJ Rule of Life # 64)
As Christians, and specifically, as members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, we are called to go forth and bring the good news of God to others. Perhaps this is a perfect moment for each of us to demonstrate that we are people of faith and we are witnesses God’s love and mercy through the way we live our lives.
As Pope Francis exhorted all Christians on March 23, 2020, when he gave his blessing “urbi et orbi,” may each of us “…decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, and every community is filled with people who can be role models – individuals, ‘who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives.’”
May the Risen Lord bless, protect, and guide us through this difficult juncture of our life journey.