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 Frater Long Nguyen, SCJ, a member of the Mississippi community. It is his reflection on the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent (JN 11:1-45).
This Difficult Thing of Being Human is a book that I am reading at the moment. It is a book about self-care which emphasizes being mindful of hurtful thoughts and learned behaviors. A tool in mindfulness is living in the present moment as a contrast to the negative thoughts and ongoing self-talk we have learned over the course of our lives.
“When will this pandemic end?”
“Is this the end of humanity?”
“Will I make it through this?”
It is a kind of self-dialogue that just increases anxiety.
We must continue to thrive in healthy ways and not continue hurting ourselves with negative thoughts and self-talk. Death is a part of today’s readings. But death is not the end for God because we have not arrived at who we truly are yet. A greatness is waiting for us beyond this time. As the responsorial psalm says, “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” Do you believe God can transition us out of these days?
The raising of Lazarus from the tomb is the most profound illustration of God’s power over death and God’s ability to move us from one moment of life to another. Jesus called Lazarus from death after four days in the grave. The power of God through Jesus reduced death to a deep sleep; Lazarus is just sleeping. Therefore, we must not fear the things that lead to death such as things we tell ourselves in addition to the physical manifestations in our world.
The daily news helps us keep up with the current situation. Do not allow the daily news to carry us away from our focus on Jesus. At the moment, we have family members or friends who may be ill. There are people who have died. This time of our lives scares us. This pandemic illness may lead us to better or worse days.
However, when our slumber has passed our life in God will continue. Before we jump to a conclusion, Jesus had already established that he has power over illness in other parables of the Bible. Jesus grants us some power over illness as well. He gives us the encouragement and ability to care for ourselves, to enjoy our current health, to connect with a network of support from friends and family etc. We do not know the greater plan or meaning in current local and global events or how God is acting in our world.
Perhaps, God is already acting through us. Jesus waited two days before responding to Lazarus’ condition. Jesus had to wait for death to set so he could show that he has power over death. As the first reading says, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them.”
Truly, Jesus will open up our graves and raise us from death to life just as Jesus had risen from the grave through the power of God. Therefore, we come before the table of the Lord and partake in the Eucharist so that we become what God has promised. That is, we will rise again to a new life with Jesus.
This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Truly, we have not arrived at what we are in God and death is not the end for us because God calls us to continue to glorify God through our mortal bodies. Day after day, week after week, we bring ourselves to the celebration of the Eucharist to meet and become Jesus. Do you remember those days? Do you remember the days when we sat side-by-side in crowded churches for Mass? We came to receive Jesus who pushes us back out into our streets and our homes. Have we become less like Jesus?
How do we continue to live in the world in light of the Resurrection of Jesus? How do we live in light of this widespread illness? Jesus declares that he is the light of the world and uses the contrast between light and dark to illustrate an example. Jesus continues to call us to follow him, the light, so we might not stumble in the dark. He has provided the faithful many examples of being a healer and a servant through other passages of the Bible. Jesus also shows us to be loving, courageous, tenacious and diligent despite many challenges and hardships on our faith journey. God did not promise us that our faith journey would be easy, therefore he calls us often to seek strength through the Eucharist. In addition, God also sends an “advocate” to help us when the journey gets difficult.
Those who believe in Jesus are able to shed their former way of life and live as a new creation in God because the Holy Spirit shall be with them. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land.” God’s attention and God’s love is focused and intentional. YOU are the ONE he loves. God knows that the people of this world need attention and care at this moment and will send the Spirit even more so. As mentioned above, we must live on and not continually hurt ourselves with negative thoughts and self-talk. God is a God of love and of the living therefore we must think, behave and live as Resurrected People. However, our journey continues when we are still in our mortal bodies despite its weaknesses.
At this present moment, we are well at various stages. We are fully alive because we are still able to care for ourselves as well as we can, to enjoy good health, to connect with a network of support of friends and family, etc. God will continue to call us from one way of being to a new creation. Death, literal or figurative, is not the end for God because we have not arrived at who we truly are yet in God. The Spirit comes to us so that we can care for ourselves, enjoy our health and keep up with our support network even more so.