A Pandemic Journey to Pentecost
Patti-Anne Kay and Fr. Peter Doherty, OMI find Easter parallels in COVID suffering but recall it was at Pentecost that the fullness of the Resurrection was realized.
Let us go about daily activities with a renewed sense of focus, purpose, and appreciation.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck close to home. Finally, at Easter, my husband and I were overjoyed to see two of our grandchildren outdoors, everyone wearing masks. Our grandson asked, “Nanna are you afraid of me?” I wondered, what is it like for a three-year-old to feel that he is dangerous for his grandparents? As for me, I was heartbroken with his worrying and fear.
Father Peter and I have worked together for years in the healing ministry of forgiving as a spiritual practice and help those deal with pain. Crises and pain make us retreat into our shell, or lead to growth just as the followers of Jesus experienced during the Easter season.
We know the Stations of the Cross serve as a way of soul-strengthening and as a springboard for meditation and prayer. It is a surprise for some to discover that the “end” of Lent is a beginning. Your Lenten journey is successful when it brings Easter to life. Because the Stations serve as a spiritual pilgrimage leading to Easter, we will focus on some of the spiritual “themes” in the light of our COVID experience.
The first theme is that spiritual life is both individual and communal. Jesus showed us a mature spirituality; one that is rooted in relationships with others, and with his Heavenly Father. In the past, many of us in the “first world” lived as if we were somehow “separate” and invulnerable. We all have re-discovered the impermanence and unpredictability of our human condition. However, rather than unite us, the pandemic divided us even though the virus has no respect for anyone. Some divided into camps; either denying it all together or refuting medical or scientific advice. Worryingly, those most vulnerable were at greater risk for infection and had fewer resources. Like Jesus, we need prayer to strengthen our relationship with God, and with others.
The second theme is judgement: those who judge and those who are judged. Even though as Christians, we are warned not to judge, during the pandemic, how many have felt they were being judged? How many judged others based on their culture or race? The spiritual cost of judging is destructive. You cannot build community; it is difficult to see the face of God in others once you’ve passed judgement.
The third theme is “falling.” With our support systems strained during the pandemic, how many of us have fallen from our personal standards through overeating, drinking, or watching too much television? How many of us felt shame, or struggled with guilt, when we lost our patience and lashed out hurting others, especially those we love?
Looking at Jesus, we see that even as we fall, there is hope. Jesus rose after each fall, sometimes with the help of others. Our own “fallings” bring us a sense of humility and help us recognize our vulnerability. At best when we fall this helps develop compassion and be more accepting of others’ vulnerabilities. It inspires us to help others as well as to accept help. COVID led us to rediscover how much we need others; how interdependent we are.
This brings us to the fourth theme; bringing to life the Gospel values. Jesus encountered men and women who expressed their love and solidarity by actively helping, as well as sharing His pain. For example, Veronica dared to help Jesus by wiping the blood from His face. Her tears expressed the pain she felt for Him. Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus by carrying his Cross. These acts, living Gospel values, change lives. Each of us are called to seek opportunities to offer help, and at times, to accept help. Thankfully, even during the pandemic we have seen many acts of kindness that are signs of hope and the Spirit working through us.
The fifth theme is loss; for Jesus, this meant being stripped of his clothes, his dignity, and ultimately his life. During the pandemic, we also felt “stripped.” It was painful not to be able to gather to worship or get together with friends. Like Jesus, we learned what it’s like to not be in control or feel alone, even abandoned.
We see through Jesus the pain of feeling abandoned by his friends and disciples, and at his death saying, “My God, My God why have your forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) We also struggled. Some wondered where is God in this? We learned that being vulnerable and not knowing what is going to happen next is agonizing. We recognize the pain and sense of abandonment for those who had to quarantine alone. We mourn for those who died separated from loved ones and those loved ones who longed to be with them.
We know that God is present even in moments of despair. We are reminded to seek God in our midst no matter what. When Jesus was on the cross, He spoke with the two criminals crucified beside him. One thief rebuked him; the other asked Jesus to remember him in paradise, a clear act of faith. This thief was able to recognize Jesus as God. We pray for the same grace.
The last theme is hope, of resurrection and new life. COVID helped us recognize those privileges we took for granted. We now have greater appreciation of time with loved ones and the importance of friends and family. We have a new appreciation for those in occupations that went unnoticed. We witnessed the bravery of those who worked during the pandemic, even at personal risk.
Like Lent, Easter too is a journey. Easter 2021 was different. So different that some were left wondering if Jesus was still in the tomb? Unlike those first followers who didn’t have hope at the Crucifixion, thankfully we do as Scripture gives us hope even in our setbacks and discouragements.
Those present at the first Easter had to grow into their recognition of the resurrected Jesus. In the garden, it wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that Mary Magdalene was able to recognize him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were able to “see” Jesus only after he broke bread with them. There’s a lesson here for us. It is too easy to be filled with despair with news of more deadly COVID variants. We need to be vigilant in our faith, knowing that Christ is present in our sufferings.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were able to “see” Jesus only after he broke bread with them. There’s a lesson here for us.
Many of us continue to struggle with concerns such as the safety of vaccines amidst emerging COVID variants; asking “where is God in all this?” If so, have heart; Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved eventually came to see the empty tomb as a sign of the Resurrection. How many of us, like Thomas, long for proof to believe? If so, remember that first Easter was an evolving experience just as Easter is today. It was at Pentecost that the fullness of Easter was realized. For many, Easter 2021 in the shadow of COVID 19 is like the experience of the first Christians. Take heart, that we too may grow in our experience Christ’s resurrection and His presence.
Let us go about daily activities with a renewed sense of focus, purpose, and appreciation. Let us move forward with a spirit of gratitude so that no one feels they are a burden, or dangerous to others. As we reach out, let all our actions demonstrate that each person is created in the image and likeness of God.
By Patti-Anne Kay and Peter Doherty, OMI
Published on the Convivium website.