What Can the Coronavirus Teach us During this Season of Lent?

by | Mar 31, 2020 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

Traditionally the time of Lent is a time during which we can reflect upon our life, upon our relationship with God and our neighbor. In countless homilies that we have  heard (during virtual masses as well as masses at which we were physically present), we have been told that Lent should be a time of prayer (intimacy with God in contemplation), a time of fasting (abstinence from the foods and the other things that we like) a time of alms-giving (charity, giving of something or the giving of ourselves to those who most vulnerable).

This year Lent seems to be asking something more from each one of us. This is the time of the coronavirus … and similar to other times of world crisis, we can have very different attitudes which change as the crisis develops: first, disbelief … then a belief that said crisis will not affect us … then the revolt and at times becoming infirm, and possibly dealing with death in a particular manner as though it were something quite ordinary.

As members of the Vincentian Family, perhaps we can live this time in a different manner. The Bible presents us with many different situations of epidemic, crisis and slavery that were experienced by the people of God in their journey and history of salvation. Saint Vincent speaks to us about the virtue of mortification, one of the five characteristic virtues. The mystics/saints of the Church (Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta) present us with reflections on the dark night of the soul. In each case, God presents individuals with the opportunity for conversation and sanctification (which, together with service on behalf of the poor and the cause of justice, are the essence of the Vincentian mission).

For Saint Vincent, mortification implies denial: denying our external sense (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) and denying our internal senses (understanding, memory, will) and denying the paradoxical passions of the soul (especially love/hate and hope/despair). Some people, fearful of the implications of the word “mortification” prefer to call this virtue “detachment”. I believe, however, that what Saint Vincent really wanted to say was that in order to be saints, we must “die” to the things of this world and live for things of God. In the New Testament, this concept is expressed numerous times but perhaps the words of Saint Paul best illustrate this concept: “you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way of righteousness and holiness of truth”.

For Saint John of the Cross, the dark night of the soul is a time of spiritual purification, a time during which the soul is purified and stripped in accord with the spirit, thus accommodating the soul and preparing it for loving union with God. Therefore, for us as Catholics, and more especially for us as members of the Vincentian Family, mortification, or the feeling of the dark night, should not be a reason for fear or rejection, but rather a reason for hope because that experience leads us to intimacy with God: sanctification in the midst of the present day work as an anticipation of eternal life.

Saint John of the Cross reveals in a very beautiful manner that the brighter the light, the more blind we become. We all recall the events surrounding the conversion of Saint Paul … standing before a very powerful and clear light, he was blinded for three days. During that time of “physical blindness” we can only image how much regret, fear and uncertainty about the future Paul (then called Saul) must have experienced … he did not know if or when his blindness would end; he also did not know what life would be like if he recovered his sight.

This time of the global coronavirus pandemic seems very similar to a “dark night of the soul” event. It affects us as Vincentians because it requires isolation (as individuals and as a family), secluded at home. It makes us feel helpless, because what we hear the most is a somewhat poetic rule that “the most proactive thing that one can do is to stay at home, isolated.” All of this makes us feel insecure, because we do not know if or when this pandemic will end and we do not know what the world will be like after this pandemic.

I believe that as members of the Vincentian Family, the coronavirus demands more from us: a proactive mortification in the sense that we pray, not so much for ourselves and in the sense that we do not learn solely from our own personal experience. The current pandemic demands that we pray for those who are poor and for those who are assisting them and that we learn from the experience and the suffering of those who are impoverished.

In reality, the poor experience this pandemic in a manner that is quite different from us. The loneliness of the poor is more acute because their home is smaller, and they do no have access to the internet. The helplessness of the poor is extremely painful because they cannot work to earn their daily bread … each passing day is another day without food, another day filled with resentment, another day for a possible return to vice and violence. The insecurity of the poor is much greater because in the case of serious illness, there is no place for them in the hospitals where health care professionals have to make a decision with regard to who will have access to a respirator and who will die.

During this Lenten season, we are invited, as Vincentians, to live in a profound manner our dark night of the soul and to view this experience as an opportunity “to put away the old self”. It is a unique opportunity to clothe ourselves anew through daily mortification and a deepening of our spiritual life, through service on behalf of those who are poor and through utilizing our resources in order to struggle on behalf of the cause of justice. In the isolation of our houses, accompanied by Mary and Vincent and Frederic Ozanam, let us give thanks to God everyday for the gift of life and for the grace of our Vincentian vocation.

Eduardo Marques Almeida
Fuente: https://www.ssvpbrasil.org.br/

[1] “Liderança Mística” – Eduardo Marques Almeida – Coleção Vicentina #46 – 2013

[2] “Obras Completas – San Juan de la Cruz” – Editora Vozes – 2002

1 Comment

  1. Clara Scherr

    Yes, the corona virus has given us the opportunity to see ourselves as FAMILY, not just Vincetian family. Thank you for encouraging us to offer prayer, and the sacrifice of staying home– those suffering from the virus, those ministering to the sick.