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There are many competing emotions and thoughts filling my heart and mind, during these COVID-19 Stay At Home days. I have fear for those who are on the frontline of this global pandemic—including my daughter who is a paramedic. I feel deep sadness for those who are suffering from the disease, as well as those who face economic devastation due to the quarantine. I feel despair as I see the way the virus has disproportionally affected the health of racial and ethnic minorities. I feel hope, as I hear stories of people who sacrifice to help another. And, forced to stay home, I feel gratitude through reclaimed meditation and prayer practices.
One of the most troubling emotions and thoughts I have is in response to the apparent politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic. These times are challenging in so many ways. And people are bound to respond to these challenges in so many ways. I admit to feelings of anger and distress as I see the deep divide COVID-19 is exposing in our society through protests and calls for choosing the economy over life. If I am honest, these feelings turn toward judgement of people who I simply don’t understand.
In one of my daily meditation books, Twenty-Four Hours A Day, the reflection for the day pierced my heart. It provided a recalibration and re-centering for my thinking:
Try never to judge. The human mind is so delicate and so complex that only its Maker can know it wholly. Each mind is so different, actuated by such different motives, controlled by such different circumstances, influenced by such different sufferings; you cannot know all the influences that have gone to make up a personality. Therefore, it is impossible for you to judge wholly that personality. But God knows that person wholly and He can change it. Leave to God the unraveling of the puzzles of personality. And leave it to God to teach you the proper understanding.
As I try to process all these emotions and thoughts, I can be overwhelmed. My faith calls me to lean on God—to trust God. Only through this surrender of my own agenda, and recommitment to see God’s presence in all, can I find understanding –and ultimately find the courage, and love to work for charity, justice and peace.
Through Holy Week, we saw Jesus endure betrayals and violence—ultimately succumbing to death on a cross. Only after going through this pain and suffering did he find the gift of resurrection and new life. So too, we must be patient and steadfast as we go through these times of desperation and suffering. We are called to know the truth deep in our heart: God is present. If we walk through these challenges with grace and confidence in God’s steadfast love and presence, we will come out the other side whole and healed—both personally and as a community.
This is not easy. But this is the challenge of our day.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Today, we receive these comforting words from John’s Gospel in the serene setting of the liturgy. And we mostly overlook the fact that they were first spoken in the highly emotional context of the Last Supper.
Jesus gathered with his followers to celebrate a Passover meal as would have been the custom of all Jews. Things took a surprising turn when Jesus began to wash his followers’ feet. This was most unusual as the washing of feet was commonly done by servants. It was so puzzling to his disciples that Peter at first refused to have his feet washed by Jesus, though in the end he submitted. By washing his followers’ feet Jesus demonstrated how radical and world altering his teaching was and continues to be. He also commanded his disciples to do as he had done: to wash one another’s feet and love one another.
Then Jesus revealed that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him. In addition, Jesus disclosed that his time with them was coming to and end. All of this must have been extremely unsettling for the disciples who anticipated a conventional Passover meal but rather experienced the Last Supper with all its human and divine drama in anticipation of Jesus’ passion and death.
At the height of this drama Jesus says: “do not let your hearts be troubled.” I can only speculate at how the disciples received this statement.
Since that night, we the followers of Jesus have found ourselves in troubling times marked by plagues, wars, revolutions, persecutions, etc. And like Jesus told his followers 2000 years ago he has told his followers through the ages even until today: “do not let your hearts be troubled.”
In addition to speaking these comforting words Jesus also reveals in today’s Gospel how we are to act so our hearts will not be troubled even in these most troubling of times by offering himself as “the truth, the way and the life.” Following in the way of Jesus by living and preaching his truth is what will give us life. This fundamental truth and the true way of Jesus is love and service which he demonstrated during the Last Supper by washing feet and commanding us to do the same.
Our times are very troublesome and uncertain. So many people have been affected by COVID 19 in so many different ways. We have no idea when this pandemic will end or what the ultimate impact will be on our society and our personal lives. Like the disciples during the Last Supper we are confused and don’t quite know what to think or how to feel.
As he told his disciples some 2000 year ago, today Jesus tells us not to let our heart be troubled because he is “the truth, the way and the life.” While comforting us he invites us to live and act as he did by loving one another as he has loved us.