COVID-19… A curse or grace?

Pope Francis often speaks about the Church as a tender and merciful mother to one and all, especially to those who are the weakest, like the children, the elderly and those who are the last we think about. He has often made this clear, and he continues to do so through the heart-warming statements that he comes out with about his expectations of the Church.

Nov 30, 2020

By Bishop Alex Dias
Why wouldn’t anyone expect the sudden invasion of COVID-19, knowing that people were falling like ninepins, in their thousands, even in their millions? There would be nothing surprising if I happened to be one of those!

Pope Francis often speaks about the Church as a tender and merciful mother to one and all, especially to those who are the weakest, like the children, the elderly and those who are the last we think about. He has often made this clear, and he continues to do so through the heart-warming statements that he comes out with about his expectations of the Church.

He has, practically, laid out the mission for the Church, for her ministers and all the baptised. He has often said that, in our times, the Church needs to be like a ‘field hospital’, always available to the needy and the suffering.

Pope Francis has said: “I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and lifts up his neighbour. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin.” (A Big Heart Open to God: An interview with Pope Francis by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, America, Sept 30, 2013 ) 

I said above that the virus did not strike me like a bolt from the blue, but that “I half expected it.” That is, perhaps, a little too far-fetched and overaudacious to say. But I was certainly not surprised when I got picked up by Madame Corona.

I was certainly not living like some people who, out of fear of COVID, are living in their cocoons as if they have already said “good-bye” to this world even before they breathed their last!!

I do not know how such people can be counted as Christians, disciples of the Good Samaritan. They seem, rather, qualified to be counted among the disciples of the Levite and the Priest of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk.10:25ff). Their behaviour is very similar to the conduct of the Levite and the Priest, who shamelessly and unscrupulously walked away from the poor man lying injured on the street. It would seem that they would have it written on their foreheads, and perhaps even on their consciences that they are not their neighbour’s keepers!!

People suffering from COVID have, sometimes, been so badly stigmatised, that they are treated like the lepers in olden times. I do not claim to have been a great apostle to the COVID patients. Still, in my own little way, I was trying to do a little ministry in favour of some  people who, I knew, were longing to receive Jesus in the Eucharist after weeks and months of Spiritual Communions.

I knew they were more desirous of receiving Jesus than I myself was, and many of my priest-brothers were. Was I not chosen, consecrated and sent to do this service to God’s people? How could I, then, find an excuse to leave such people unattended and abandoned?

I knew my little effort was like a drop in the ocean, but drops do fill the ocean. Whatever little I was able to, I tried to do, of course, taking the necessary precautions, like wearing the mask, keeping the prescribed social distance, etc. I am certainly not advocating throwing those reasonable and necessary measures to the winds. We must take those precautions seriously, no doubt. But once we do that, we must not fail to see and recognise the man on the street, and his needs, even through the masks! And we must remember that the Commandment of love always binds us. And finally, we must not forget that our lives are in God’s hands. Some people have blamed me for what I did, and for holding these views. But I did it all keeping in mind the teachings of the Lord, the Good Samaritan. I prefer to be blamed by some people than being condemned by the Lord.

Valiant soldiers of the divine master
Very recently, I got news about an 83-year old priest friend of mine who died of COVID in the Archdiocese of Milan. A thorough gentleman and dedicated pastor who dedicated his life to the sheep Jesus had entrusted to him. May his soul rest in peace.

And this priest friend of mine, Don Bruno, who sacrificed his life for the people in his care, reminds us of the many others who died in those first days and weeks of COVID, especially in the Diocese of Bergamo, North Italy.

I am singling that area out because I am somewhat familiar with it having rendered some pastoral service in the region. Those brave shepherds did not run away when they saw the  “wolf” coming. They were well aware that they had been chosen to follow the spirituality of the Good Samaritan, not that of the Priest and the Levite of the parable. And so they died answering the call of Jesus.

Today I see that many shy away from their duties towards their brothers and sisters because they are too scared for their own lives. Am I wrong when I say this? Honestly, I wish I were! But I do not think so. I am writing what I am writing based on my own observation and experience.

I have also had the feedback of some of my brother bishops, priests and religious, both men and women. Only recently, talking to a bishop friend of  mine, I was sad to hear what he was telling me. He was telling me about how priests and religious with the virus are being neglected by their confreres and community members, sometimes even by their superiors. They don’t seem to care two hoots about them because they are too afraid to get infected.

The big question to be asked is if they have given up the spirituality of the Good Samaritan to embrace the other one, that of the Priest and Levite, which puts self before neighbour, and even before Jesus, the Good Samaritan. Just imagine what would happen if Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity Sisters had closed shop and left the dying to die on the streets.

Coronavirus: A lost spiritual opportunity?
When Coronavirus first hit the world, especially the Northern Regions of Italy, several people were very badly affected. I remember the frightening news about a number of priests losing their lives serving the sick and the infected. At that stage, the Diocese of Bergamo, which is the diocese of good Pope John XXIII, lost a large number of priests. They died like valiant soldiers of Christ, doing what their Lord and Master had Himself done, and doing what He expected of them. They did not seek their own safety but rather stepped forward to die, serving the people they had vowed to serve.

At that time, urging the priests to remain faithfully at their posts, serving the people and fulfilling their duty, Pope Francis in his inimitable style, had told them that at this difficult time, the people would get their “pizzas” by ordering them on-line. And so he had urged the  priests not to deprive the people of their spiritual-pastoral services, their spiritual “pizzas”.

We are all aware of the many doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, frontline workers, as they have been called, who died while caring for the many people infected by the Coronavirus. Many of them have been good examples for us to follow, especially for us priests and religious. They knew it was their call of duty, which had to take precedence over everything else, including their own lives. Why is it then that today many people, even priests and religious behave like the Priest and Levite of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, instead of being faithful and loyal to the Good Samaritan Jesus?

For Heaven’s sake, it is not my intention to imply here that there have not been those in our midst who have been good disciples of the Good Samaritan. Of  course, there have been such. I know sisters who have handed their private hospitals to the State, to make them available for the service of the COVID-infected patients, thereby even incurring heavy financial losses.

I also know some who have sacrificed their lives and died serving the patients. What I am deploring is the fact that there are many who have chosen to follow the Levite and the Priest, rather than practising the spirituality of the Good Samaritan.

I really wish there were not so many of their ilk. In fact, it is beyond my understanding how a disciple of Jesus can choose to walk away from the people who are crying for mercy, refusing to be the Good Samaritan, and preferring instead to walk in the footsteps of the Priest and the Levite. –– Indian Currents

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