Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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By Bishop Larry Silva
April 10, 2020
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (Private; live-streamed.)]
A friend of mine told this story about himself on a Cursillo weekend I worked with him.
He was a married man with two children. He had always been a practicing Catholic, but he was no saint. He had a huge problem with his temper and would often verbally abuse his wife and children, especially after he had too much to drink, which was quite often. Then he turned to drugs, and his life started to deteriorate even more rapidly. One day he was fired from his job, and when he went home, he started to scream at his wife and children. His wife told him that that was it. She had had enough. She was leaving the house at that moment and taking the children with her. He became even more furious and was about to hit his wife, but something restrained him. Instead he huffed off to the bedroom, and slammed the door behind him. On the wall was a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He looked at the picture for a moment, then hauled off with all his might and hit it. The glass shattered, and it fell off the wall, and he fell to the floor and stayed there for several hours. When he got up, he knew that something had radically changed in him. The next day he enrolled in a drug treatment program. He eventually reconciled with his wife, found a new job, and became very involved in his parish. He became a happy man who could now make others happy, too. He said what changed him was that when he went into his room filled with rage and looked at that picture of the Sacred Heart, in his heart he heard Jesus saying, “If you have to hit somebody, hit me. I can take it; and I will still love you.” It was that incredibly merciful love of Jesus that he felt at that moment that had changed his life.
“It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured. … By his stripes we were healed.” It was these words of Isaiah that were perfectly fulfilled Jesus, not only when he suffered through his Passion and died on the cross for us, but again in the life of my friend. How many times have they been fulfilled in so many other situations!
Right now Satan is working among us. As we are locked away, even with people we love, we can begin to get on one another’s nerves. Little annoying habits that we learn to ignore under normal circumstances are now amplified in those close quarters. There is a rise in domestic violence when we “lose it” and allow ourselves to lash out at someone, either physically or verbally, saying or doing things we know we will regret. As we venerate the cross today during this liturgy, or perhaps alone later in the day, instead of spewing our anger out upon others, perhaps we can instead spew it out upon the Lord. We might find such a notion shocking, an irreverent sign of disrespect, or even a sacrilege. But Jesus has so humbled himself that he wants us to know that he can take it, and he will still love us. Isn’t this exactly why we call this horrible day of his cruel and unjust death on the cross Good Friday?
We may be angry simply because we are locked down and are deprived of our access to the sacraments. I know many people are angry at me and other bishops for making the very painful decision to suspend our public gatherings, even during these most sacred days, for the sake of the life and the welfare of the whole community. We may be very upset that we have lost income or lost a job; or we may fear not only losing our own jobs but of our employer altogether losing the business that sustains us and so many others. We may be angry at God himself because he seems so slow in hearing our prayers to free us once and for all from the scourge of this coronavirus. When we come to the cross, Jesus invites us to remember his words to Pilate, “I came into this world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” He wants us to be truthful and honest with him, because no matter how difficult our feelings may be, he can take it, and he will still love us. Of course, he does not want us simply to be truthful with him, but to listen to his voice. In the case of my friend, it took several hours of silence after he had truthfully expressed himself to Jesus for him to hear Jesus tell him the truth that he was so loved that he should be free, and that he needed to take up his cross and do the hard work involved in achieving his freedom from addictions and from his toxic anger. But the first words he heard were words of incredible love. Once he truly heard those words of truth, he could hear others words of truth that he did not want to hear before, but that led him toward the hard work of conversion. And those first words of love made taking up the cross much more bearable.
Yes, it was our infirmities that Jesus bore, our sufferings that he endured. Once we hear the truth of such great self-sacrificing love, we, too, can have the courage to take up our crosses and to change our lives, so that we can be set free from sin; so that we can multiply the loaves of such sacrificial love and nurture the whole world with the love of Jesus Christ our Savior.