15 March 2020

Panic is not a virtue

3rd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

I got in trouble last week. I made the mistake of expressing an opinion about the coronavirus hysteria being whipped up by the Talking Heads on TV. Because I am half-Dominican and half-Vulcan, I am genetically incapable of panicking. Some of my Facebook friends are not so constituted. Thus, I was pilloried for allegedly encouraging people not to take precautions and told that I would be responsible for anyone in the future who becomes infected and dies. So much power should never be in the hands of one man! I tried to defend myself, but, alas, the frenzy had taken hold, and I was shouted down. Not the first time. Won't be the last. So, in light of this Lenten season and our faith in the resurrection at the end of the age, how do we choose to come face-to-face with sickness and death? That is, with what attitude do we confront our mortality? Anxiety? Fear? Disappointment? Relief? Paul writes to the Romans, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Christ, [...] and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts[...].” We look sickness and death in the eye. . .and we hope.

Some of you may have heard me just say that we look sickness and death in the eye and cross our fingers, hoping that we won't get sick and die. Or that we should just carry on as usual, throwing the dice and calling on Lady Luck to give us a winning streak of seven's. That's not what I said. What I said was that we must choose to look sickness and death in the eye through the theological virtue of hope, the infused good habit of desiring eternal life together with the expectation of obtaining it. For the follower of Christ, hope is never a gamble. Hope is never just a spin of the roulette wheel. Hope is what we are given by God to fuel our desire for Him, and our sure expectation that we will spend life eternal in His presence. We look over and above this world – it's failures, disappointments, illnesses, and deaths – and we fix our desiring-gaze on His glory. That's our end, our goal, our telos. That's where we truly belong, our supernatural home. Yes, we must live in the world with all its diseases and injuries. But these diseases and injuries do not define us. They cannot tell us who we are nor how we should pass from this life. “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts...” Our hearts brim to bursting with the Living Water of Christ Jesus! 
One of the more prominent goals of Lent is to prepare ourselves to be vessels for Christ's living water. Our first step is to say along with the Samaritan woman, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty.” In other words, the first step is for each one of us to ask Christ to pour into our hearts and minds everything we need to survive in this world and thrive in the next. Once we've asked, we receive. We open ourselves, in surrender, to the living water, the living spirit of Christ who wills for us our eternal salvation. If you think your sins prevent you from asking for this gift, think again. The Samaritan woman has six husbands! Christ doesn't condemn her. He doesn't congratulate her either. He looks into the depths of her soul and sees her searching for happiness, a happiness that only he and his Father can provide. Once she has recognized Jesus as the Messiah, she is able to go among the other Samaritans and proclaim the Good News that the long-awaited Savior has arrived. Our sins do not prevent Christ from offering us redemption, but they do prevent us from receiving all that he has to offer. Lent is our time to become the best possible vessels for receiving Christ's mercy and pouring it out for others. 
As our National Emergency continues, we, as followers of Christ have a duty to be ambassadors of hope. Not shills for panic and hysteria. With our hearts and minds firmly fix on our supernatural end, we do everything we can to become the best possible vessels for Christ's living waters. Take precautions. Pay attention to the medical experts. Limit personal interactions. But NEVER give in to the despair and desperation that infects those w/o hope. We are not tasked with spreading fear, anxiety, or chaos. We are tasked with being lights for the world. Now is your chance to show the world and one another what genuine, Christian hope looks like. As these Lenten days pass and things in the city get better. . .or worse. . .ask yourself: “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” For us, right now, that sounds like a rhetorical question. But as your hope wavers, it becomes The Question. And the answer is always: “YES!” He is with us always. So, look sickness, death, despair, desperation, and sin, look them square in the eye and hope. Hope like you've never hoped before, remembering that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

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