By Benjamin Chaya
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved the biggest calamity of the present generation. The few of the old generation who experienced the World wars and the Spanish flue of 1918 can attest to a similar experience. In relation to the Spanish flue, it is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold suffering to humanity with deaths surpassing the 2 million mark. As that was enough it has wreaked havoc to the economic and social fabric of society.
Our faith has not been spared. Many can no longer attend Masses or receive sacraments with the faithful having to contend with virtual Masses. Some are grappling with questions of faith. If God is there why so much suffering?
God does not allow something bad to happen unless a great good comes out of it. He allowed His only begotten Son to die a shameful death so that humanity could be redeemed after the fall. We have to read the message behind all events that take place, God also wants them to serve as moments for correction and teaching.
Many Christian sects had resorted to teaching Christianity without the cross. Prayer was viewed as an instant cooker where you press God and He response instantly in the way you want. Teaching on suffering, sin and sickness had long departed from most sermons. If one was sick one was said not be praying hard enough.
In Sacred Scripture Christ talked constantly about His own impending death. In the gospel of Mathew He makes 5 prophecies relating to His passion. One such instance is found in Mathew 16:21-23. Peter was rebuked strongly by Jesus Christ for wanting to talk Him out of the difficult mission that lay ahead. Christ went on Mathew 16:24-27 to say that anyone who wanted to follow Him should take up His Cross.
Why is there so much fear in the face of the pandemic? It can be obvious that many fear the prospect of death. The reality is that mankind is immersed in sin and attachment to sin. The Blessed Virgin Mary in the apparition to the three shepherd children of Fatima called on mankind to repent and turn to God, but unfortunately this message was not heeded in many respects.
The fear of death is worsened by living in sin and an inordinate attachment to material things. However Holy Mother Church teaches through the Catechism of the Catholic Church that we are the pilgrimage Church. Earth is not our home. However many live in denial and are eating and drinking as in the day of Noah as Christ said in Mathew 24:37-40. Many behave as though they live on earth forever and do not pray no read scripture. Hence they die unprepared.
We need to examine how the saints approached times of disaster and calamity which should assist us face the times we are experiencing. What is common amongst saints is that they made a true conversion and lived lives pleasing to God hence they were able to face suffering and death with calmness. This piece will look at a few examples of how they handled trials and tribulations.
St Paul faced many hardships in his apostolic work and was eventually martyred. We read in Acts 16:25 how he sang hymns with Silas whilst they were imprisoned in Philippi. When one grows in faith and detachment from sin one is indifferent about living and dying. The passage below from Paul as outlined in the Letter to the Philippians illustrates this point.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better indeed. But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and will continue with all of you…” (Philippians 1:21-26).
St Stephen the first Christian Marty was stoned to death but He kept on proclaiming Christ and went further to ask that God forgive his killers( Acts: 55-59). One can even go the extend of offering ones life as a sacrifice if one is in union with Christ. St Maximillian Kolbe offered to take the place of a family man condemned to death at Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1942 during the Second World. Condemned to die through starvation with 9 other men in as was the practice at Auschwitz when a prisoner escaped, he continued ministering to other prisoners giving them strength to face their final hour with confidence. St Ignatius of Antioch went to his death by being eaten by hungry lions with joy. He wrote many letters and converted many souls on his way to Martyrdom in Rome.
What is emerging from this reflection is that sickness or suffering is not the greatest problem but rather it is sin. Sacred Scripture asserts to it when Christ met the man whom he healed who had been lame for 38 years, he warned not to sin again or something worse would happen to him ( John 5:13-14). Monsignor Charles Pope aptly put when he said “ Suffering or dying from COVID-19 is not our greatest threat — dying in mortal sin is“.
In conclusion the Church and society have over the centuries battling many storms which include wars, diseases, racial tension and other ills. This scene mirrors the bought scene in Mathew 8:23-27 where the disciple’s called out to Christ when the boat was rocked by sea currents. Likewise we need to repent and call on the one who can save us from the current calamities who is Jesus Christ who died on the cross to redeem humanity.