Reflections: Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ

Br. Duane

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 Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, superior of the Sacred Heart Monastery Community in Wisconsin.

Peace in peaceful times is easy.  Knowing peace in times of anxiety —  that is the difficult part.  Yet, ever since those anxious disciples gathered in the Upper Room, Christ has offered peace through the experience of his risen and living Body.

I have seen many attempts to find God in the pandemic.  Some seek peace through faith in a God of protection.  I certainly know that impulse to ask God to protect loved ones, the vulnerable, and, of course, myself.  Yet if the Gospel, pastoral experience, and life have taught me anything, it is that God’s faithful are not immune from suffering.  If anything, the cross and suffering seem to be a guarantee of Christian life.  Some seek solace that there is some sort of a plan in all of this, or even that God intends the pandemic in some way.  I am very uncomfortable with any hint that God directly causes events such as this.  The love of the Sacred Heart, and the lovingkindness of God seem to be at odds with arbitrary and capricious pain, or even punishment.  Lastly, I have also seen expressions of hopelessness.  There are some who find in this, and similar events, evidence that God has abandoned us.  I can’t help but imagine loss and abandonment is what those disciples in the upper room experienced before they witnessed Christ’s presence and comfort “Peace be with you.”

In his broadcast for the First Sunday of Lent, Archbishop Jerome Listecki reminded those listening that ours is a God who is present, even in suffering.  He did not reflect on a God of protection, or about a God who has caused this to happen, and certainly did not express an experience of abandonment.  Rather, he witnessed that Christ is present to our eyes through daily acts of kindness, care, and mercy.  They surround us if only we look for them.  One family helping another care for children.  A neighbor helping someone at risk by running essential errands.  Landlords and employers doing all they can to help renters and employees.  Health care and essential workers on the front line.  Using extra time to reconnect with important people in our lives.   These uncountable acts of self-sacrifice each manifest that the Risen Christ is present through his Body.  Through all anxiety and worry, love is alive:  “Peace.”

And, perhaps, peace begins with gratitude.  Let us open our eyes to signs of love all around us, and offer thanksgiving for those who make God’s love present in suffering.  Or, to use a churchy sounding Greek word:  let us offer eucharist:  thanksgiving. Let us take a break from anxious headlines, the endless frantic posts and notifications of social media, and make space for prayer.  I offer a video, that it might prompt a personal prayer of gratitude for people in our lives, and perhaps bring a measure of peace in the middle of anxiety: