After a couple of days with the ever-changing news, it has been hard to sit down, take a deep breath and comprehend all that is taking place before us. I recently travelled to Arizona and California.
Five days after I returned, Toronto Public Health announced that anyone who has travelled in the last 14 days to go into “self-isolation”. Could I be sick? Would this affect me? What about all the people I encountered over the last five days? Are they at risk? Maybe I should just get the virus and just be done with it! After all I’m healthy, not too TOO old, so my chances are good. Aren’t they? I am happy to say that after being in official “self-isolation” for over a week now, following my five days post-flight, I am almost done with my “self-isolation”. Pheeeewwww.
While working in Tucson at the end of February, I spent a lot of time walking among the majestic Saguaro Cactus, bathed in the light of the bright sun, appreciating the nature of the dry riverbeds that are teeming with life as small plants grow between the rocks. Standing tall among the Saguaro giants, reminded me of how small I really am.
Having returned to Canada, almost fourteen days ago now, I sit alone in my room and in my office among the gigantic realities of life that have emerged outside our doors. The Coronavirus, a once barely thought of disease that only affected a place where I have never been, has now found a home in all the cities where I’ve ever walked through and called home.
So, I stay inside, pondering the great mystery of it all. It is a mystery that brings me back to the days of 9/11. When being interviewed at that time by the local radio station in Grande Prairie, AB, where I was serving in the first four months of my ordination, I was asked, “Where was God?” My only answer that would come was “God was in the rubble.” It was the only thing that made sense, or at least sounded plausible in my first home-grown crisis post-ordination.
So, what is God doing now? I believe, as I believed in 2001, that God has not left our side. God is with us in our sickness, our pain, our isolation. Because God is in our hope. There may be the temptation to ask, “Where is God?”, “Why is this happening?” And though there is a strong temptation to ask this, or to even say, “See, there is no God, or else we would be fine and this would never have happened.” But some of the wisdom from 2001 can be seen today, as events, decisions, causes and connections become more apparent, is that in our humanity, we have to see our responsibility for where we are at the present moment. Did God cause this? No. Could God stop this? Yes. But maybe there is a greater wisdom, or a greater purpose for this global wake-up call.
Lent is about being in the desert; a forty-day journey, filled with hopes and expectations, but aware of limited resources and temptations. It is a time to self-isolate, maybe not by choice, but by opportunity. I believe the greatest fear one can have, despite being in the beautiful desert landscape, is actually the fear of being alone with yourself. And for many of us right now, we feel very alone in our self-isolation, our virtual realities, our helplessness that we hear and encounter from every announcement on the news. So maybe this time is an opportunity, to not only store up food, toilet paper and other supplies, but an opportunity to allow the “loneliness”, the “aloneness” to be one of stillness, and not fear. To say, “Wow, I actually do have time to pray and talk to God, and to listen.” I always make excuses why I don’t. This is a moment to dive headfirst into mystery and know that we are first and foremost, LOVED. Not because of the crisis we are in, but because we recognize how our vulnerability, leads us to humility in the face of all we are about in this world around us, and to know that God is with us.
The good that we hear about on the radio asking us to be a kind neighbour, a local buddy to folks in need, to ensure the safety of all, to cooperate with these seemingly insignificant laws and directives, are nothing short of what we know in faith as teachings of Jesus Christ. We do all this because we are called to show great love to our neighbour, to love your neighbour as yourself. To live in faith, hope and love. Not just for today, but everyday. To understand that God’s law of love is a law that must govern all laws, everywhere, everyday.
Perhaps this desert time for us is an opportunity to get back to this. Perhaps God hasn’t deserted us in this desert, but instead, calls us back to find Him. Take the time, after all, it’s not difficult in these days to find the time. We recognize the desert for all of humanity in these days. We see the vulnerability of our humanity by something that brings us to our knees. We see the hope to which we hold our heads high, knowing that our dream for a brighter tomorrow, is God’s dream as well. We will get through this. It is up to us to get through this for the better.
Fr. Santo Arrigo C.Ss.R.
Coordinator of Ignite Canada
* Thank you to Fr. Tom O’Rourke C.Ss.R. for using the expression, “What a Lent!” that gave inspiration to this post! 🙂
In The Face
In the face of sickness, bring healing
In the face of weakness, bring strength
In the face of despair, bring hope
In the face of hunger, bring food
In the face of arrogance, bring humility
In the face of anger, bring wisdom
In the face of blame, bring forgiveness
In the face of aggression, bring patience
In the face of loneliness, bring comfort
In the face of doubt, bring faith
In the face of confusion, bring truth
In the heart of us all, bring Your Love
Fr. Santo Arrigo C.Ss.R. March 18, 2020