Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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By Bishop Larry Silva
March 29, 2020
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Private Mass, due to Covid-19 pandemic; live-streamed)]
Do you feel like you are in a tomb right now? The freedom we enjoy to go where we please when we please has been strictly curtailed by an act of solidarity that forces us to work actively to lower the curve of infection of the coronavirus. For what we hope is a short time most Catholics have no access to the Bread of Life, but must settle for a distant electronic version of the Mass, the great sacrifice of our salvation. We may feel like we are being buried in debt without knowing when we will regain the means to dig ourselves out, because we cannot go to work. We sometimes are locked up in worry and anxiety about whether I or loved one may catch the virus or even unwittingly spread it to others.
Then there are the tombs in which we are enclosed during normal times, before we even heard of Covid-19. Some are locked into the tombs of addictions, which isolate them from family and friends, even if they are in the same room or household, tombs from which there seems to be no light from the suffocating darkness. Some are in tombs of domestic violence, in which they feel trapped in a lifeless and dangerous existence; while others are in tombs of human trafficking where they work very hard, but most of the fruits of their labors go to their handler. Some are in the most beautiful, whitewashed tombs that make them feel superior to those who suffer down below. Others are in the tombs of unforgiveness, holding on to grudges for decades, that just sap the life blood out of them. Yes, sometimes we are forced into tombs against our will, but sometimes we pave the way for ourselves into these tombs. They tie us and bind us just as those burial bands bound Lazarus, about whom we hear in today’s gospel.
But Jesus is the Lord of Life who has conquered death in his resurrection. He had the power to call the dead and decaying Lazarus out of his tomb, and he has the power to call us, fully alive, out of our tombs. But there are some other lessons to learn from today’s gospel. Jesus does not always act at the snap of our fingers or according to our timetable. Several days before Lazarus died, Jesus was informed that his friend was ill. He could have simply healed him from a distance, as he had done to others; or he could have rushed to Bethany to heal him, even at the point of death. But he stayed where he was for two days. Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, must have been praying very hard that Jesus would rush over to heal their brother, because when Jesus finally arrives after Lazarus is already dead, they both scold him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus sees a much larger picture than we do. In the case of Lazarus, he saw that Lazarus’ suffering and death was to be an occasion to strengthen the faith of many in his power to save – and save he did in a way they could not have imagined! And, of course, it was a foreshadowing that Jesus’ own death, which was so disheartening to those who had put their faith in him, was just a passing moment that would end in his conquering death not only for himself but for all humanity.
Just so, we are challenged whenever we find ourselves in our tombs, to call upon Jesus to free us, but to trust that he will do so in his own time, so that in the meantime we may learn the lessons we need to learn so that we may have life in abundance. I have spoken many times about how many in our world – and sometimes we ourselves – have made themselves gods, grasping for themselves life and death decisions that belong to God alone. This pandemic teaches us that we are not in charge and do not have control over the entire universe. But if we worship God and God alone, he and he alone can save us and bless us with health and life.
Martha and Mary also teach us how we are to pray. They both go to the Lord, shaking their fingers at him, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus does not reprimand them for speaking to him so boldly or turn away from them because he could not tolerate their rudeness. No, he is moved to tears of compassion because they honestly opened their hearts to him. Early on God taught Jacob that he wants us to wrestle with him, to be honest with him, and not to be passive in our prayer, and this is why God gave Jacob the name Israel, which means “one who contends with God.” So it is that while we owe God all respect and worship, he still wants us to honestly speak to him in prayer, to wrestle with him, because it just might be that very wrestling that loosens the bonds that tie us so that we can be set free from our tombs.
The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead – or any story in the gospels – is not just about what the wonderful works that Jesus did long ago and far away. It is the story of Jesus, who is alive, interacting with us today, knowing all the tombs in which we have been locked up or in which we lock ourselves, and wanting, in his own time, and in a way whose marvels we can hardly imagine, to unbind us and let us go free.