ONLY Pope Francis presiding over the celebration of the Passion of the Lord on the evening of Good Friday in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica was able to venerate the Holy Cross with a kiss, in compliance with measures to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In his sermon, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Papal Household, reminded everyone that God has plans for our welfare, not woe, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
With its reiteration of timeless truths and its timely relevance, the homily should reverberate in all corners of the earth. Today being Easter Sunday, we share excerpts in our limited space below. The full text is at https://tinyurl.com/vqxvgh5.
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THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence. It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us. As a psalm in the Bible says, “In his prime, man does not understand./ He is like the beasts—they perish.”
God does this with us sometimes: he disrupts our projects and our calm to save us from the abyss we do not see. But we need to be careful not to be deceived. God is our ally, not the ally of the virus! He himself says in the Bible, “I have … plans for your welfare and not for woe”. If these scourges were punishments of God, it would not be explained why they strike equally good and bad, and why the poor usually bear the worst consequences of them. Are they more sinners than others?
The one who cried one day for Lazarus’ death cries today for the scourge that has fallen on humanity. Yes, God “suffers,” like every father and every mother. When we will find out this one day, we will be ashamed of all the accusations we made against him in life. God participates in our pain to overcome it. “Being supremely good — wrote St. Augustine — God would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, he is able to bring forth good out of evil.”
Did God the Father possibly desire the death of his Son in order to draw good out of it? No, he simply permitted human freedom to take its course, making it serve, however, his own purposes and not those of human beings. This is also the case for natural disasters like earthquakes and plagues. He does not bring them about. He has given nature a kind of freedom as well, qualitatively different of course than that of human beings, but still a form of freedom—freedom to evolve according to its own laws of development.
The other positive fruit of the present health crisis is the feeling of solidarity. When have the people of all nations ever felt themselves so united, so equal, so less in conflict than at this moment of pain? Never so much as now have we experienced the truth of the words of one of our great poets: “Peace, you peoples! Too deep is the mystery of the prostrate earth.”
The virus knows no borders. In an instant it has broken down all the barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth, and power. We should not revert to that prior time when this moment has passed. As the Holy Father has exhorted us, we should not waste this opportunity. Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain. Returning to the way things were is the “recession” we should fear the most.
This is the moment to put into practice something of the prophecy of Isaiah whose fulfillment humanity has long been waiting for. Let us say “Enough!” to the tragic race toward arms. Say it with all your might, you young people, because it is above all your destiny that is at stake. Let us devote the unlimited resources committed to weapons to the goals that we now realize are most necessary and urgent: health, hygiene, food, the fight against poverty, stewardship of creation. Let us leave to the next generation a world poorer in goods and money, if need be, but richer in its humanity.
The word of God tells us the first thing we should do at times like these is to cry out to God. He himself is the one who puts on people’s lips the words to cry out to him, at times harsh words of lament and almost of accusation: “Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord?/ Rise up! Do not reject us forever! … Rise up, help us!/ Redeem us in your mercy”. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Does God perhaps like to be petitioned so that he can grant his benefits? Can our prayer perhaps make God change his plans? No, but there are things that God has decided to grant us as the fruit both of his grace and of our prayer, almost as though sharing with his creatures the credit for the benefit received. God is the one who prompts us to do it: “Seek and you will find,” Jesus said; “knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“After three days I will rise,” Jesus had foretold. We too, after these days that we hope will be short, shall rise and come out of the tombs of our homes. Not, however, to return to the former life like Lazarus, but to a new life, like Jesus. A more fraternal, more human, more Christian life!