Sometimes we enter into passions of our own choosing and sometimes passions we don’t choose enter into us. As we approach Passion Sunday, we can look back on Lent with the realization that, on many levels, it will not end next week as our liturgical schedule dictates. COVID-19 has overtaken all calendars of our economy, our social life, our medical community, and even our Lent.
The shelter-in-place directives arrived in Kansas City during the third week of Lent and we will probably not receive “all-clear” signals until three weeks or more into Easter. I don’t know if it will last forty days and forty nights but that time period is an ongoing theme in our salvation history. In sacred scripture, forty marks a period of trial, preparation, or testing. Mentioned well over a hundred times, some of the more popular biblical references are the forty days and nights of rain in Noah’s time, Moses’ forty days of fasting on Mount Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments, Elijah’s forty-day journey in the desert before meeting God on Mount Horeb, and Jonah’s forty-day warning to Nineveh for its conversion. Though Easter Sunday is about forty days from Ash Wednesday, our forty days of isolation will put us closer to the National Day of Prayer in early May or, ironically, the Feast of Saint Corona the following week.
Meanwhile, people have been reaching out to one another in remarkable and beautiful ways during this time of lock-down. Like you, I have heard marvelous stories of com-passion (with passion). “Passion” refers to an overpowering emotion or intense conviction, a capacity to embrace strong energy or to be shaped by external forces. For the past decade or so during Holy Week, I have watched Mel Gibson’s poignant and gripping film, The Passion of the Christ. From start to finish, it is always difficult for me to view; yet I feel compelled, as if it is an annual penance for my own failures. I want to touch Christ’s passion, though it is a painful reach.
The coronavirus has compelled many of us to touch the passion, sorrow, and suffering of others. Many citizens of earth have become very determined and disciplined to act more carefully and honorably. It seems to me that, collectively, we are becoming more thoughtful, more prayerful, and more eager to look out and care for one another. Sadly, I have presided over several funerals in recent weeks in which family members were not permitted to attend, causing their grief to descend deeper. I have spoken to some by phone whose current condition (loss of job, incredible loneliness, fear for loved ones, etc.) has added a layer of challenge that they don’t know how to handle. These are difficult times, a time of passion and trial, and, like all times, a time of preparation. Let us enter into Passion Sunday and Holy Week with a willingness to walk, even closer, with Jesus. As we reflect upon His final walk on earth, carrying the cross to Mount Calvary, let us continue the journey with greater love.
In closing, I want to also express gratitude to so many of you who have reached out to me and Saint Charles Parish, asking how we’re doing. We keep our church open from dawn to dusk—people are grateful to stop in and make a private visit. Our food pantry remains in operation, though with careful alterations—I am heartened by those who have brought food and supplies to our church so that we can transfer them to those in need. Like most churches, our monetary contributions have dropped drastically; some of you have graciously offered to contribute to our deficit fund. And many of you are participating in our on-line retreat and reaching out to one another as spiritual companions. All of these are tremendous signs of hope. Thank you!