Circular Letter No. 3/2020
March 17, 2020
Lenten Message in the Time of the Covid-19 Pandemic
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mt. 14: 27)
Peace and all good brothers!
In chapter 14 of the Gospel of Matthew (verses 22-33), we read of that amazing episode in the life of the disciples; when after the feeding of the five thousand, our Lord Jesus made the disciples get into a boat to go ahead of Him to the other side of the lake as he dismissed the crowd and go by Himself to the mountain to pray. On the disciples’ journey to the other side, the boat was tossed about by the waves for the wind was against it. On the fourth watch of the night Jesus came walking on water. The disciples upon seeing the Lord thought He was a ghost. At once he said to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
This pericope attesting to the Lord’s divinity shows his power over natural elements- the wind and the sea. The sea, in ancient times, was believed to be the abode of evil. The evangelist then expresses, by relaying the account of His walking on the sea, the Lord’s dominion over evil. He literally tramples evil underfoot.
Even more striking is the Lord’s willingness to pass over this power to man as He invites Peter to walk over the sea. But Peter, distracted by the strength of the wind, begins to sink. Instinctively, he says, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus stretches out His hand, caught him and saved him.
This Gospel passage gives us much hope as we face the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. It reminds us that our Lord is the omnipotent God He truly is. He has the power to cast the evil that seeks to destroy us and He shares His power with us to walk over the sea and to defeat evil.
We should not be men of “little faith” at this time as we continue to shepherd His flock He entrusted to us. We are not hirelings who will abandon the flock in the face of wolves and danger. “Let the children come to the Lord”. (Mt.19:14). Let them who are burdened and weary come to Him (Mt. 11:28) and let them continue to drink from the wellspring of life!
This infestation that we face today cannot be overcome except by prayer and fasting (Mt. 17:21). We hope to equip ourselves with these two efficacious weapons of combat these days appropriately too since we are in the season of Lent while we face this “invisible” enemy.
Now more than ever we should altogether pray as a fraternity. Let our fraternities be power houses of prayer from which our flock, the people we serve, can draw strength, consolation and hope in these trying times. Let the people feel the love which flows from our communities primarily by the way we hold on to the arms of the Lord and the manner by which we anoint each other with the oil of gladness and unity. Let this love flow to our people that they may never feel that their shepherds have abandoned them. Even if the Eucharist is not celebrated publicly let us celebrate the Eucharist in our fraternities daily and “collect” the prayers of all we serve and all affected by the pandemic and bring them to the table of the Lord presenting them to Him who is compassionate and merciful. Those who we serve may find it such a consolation if the celebration is aired through live streaming. As the presider gives the final blessing at the end let, as always has been the case, the blessing fall not only on those present but more importantly those who are not. The love of God covers the whole world. Let this “explosion” of God’s love sweep every corner of the world that all afflicted may be healed.
After drinking and eating from this wellspring of God’s mercy and love which is the Eucharist, with precaution and prudence, our brother-pastors may take the opportunity to bring the Blessed Sacrament around their parishes in opportune moments to vividly express the words of our Lord to them, “I will be with you always (Mt. 28:20)…. It is I, do not be afraid (Mt. 14:27).”
Let the bells of our churches still ring at the appropriate times of the day to let the people know that we are here with you and for you. Let us uphold the tradition of our Capuchin forebears who served the people even in the severest of situations.
We have been called to be men of penance. These acts and practices lead us not only to discipline ourselves but deeply to be in solidarity with the people in these trying times. Whatever we have in excess we should share with those in need.
The pandemic teaches us a hard lesson our religious life has been always trying to form us to be. It reminds us to live with “the minimum necessary not the maximum allowed” and that some things which we aspire to have and practices (sometimes even titles) we embellish and decorate ourselves with are but vanities (Ecclesiastes 1:2). It is now the time to realize those which are truly essential in our life. Let us remove the stubbornness in our hearts and pride and ambition that blind our eyes and let these thoughts strike our hearts to move us to conversion.
Over and above all, our prayer and practice of penance should lead us to grow in faith and to trust in the Lord. As we face the day to day challenge of this Covid-19 pandemic, let us not be afraid because the Lord is with us and being with Him let us share His presence to the people who need in during these difficult times.
God bless you all!
Br. Eugenio Juanilo P. Lopez, OFMCap.
Capuchin Philippine Province of Our Lady of Lourdes