By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 2, 2020
This Lenten season surely will be etched into our memories forever. Our usual offerings to God pale compared to the sacrifices we’re called to make during the coronavirus pandemic.
Who could have foreseen that we’d be unable to attend Mass at church? Who could have predicted that we’d be separated from our friends? Still, in the midst of these disruptions, we can discover new meaning in Christ’s last words from the cross.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These aren’t words we’d expect from a man who has been ruthlessly pinned to a cross. Still, he is the one who said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
What does this mean for people facing the pandemic? Now is the time to truly forgive anyone who has wronged us, which we can do by praying for them. It’s also the time to recognize that the pandemic is affecting the whole world, and we’re all in this together. Rather than stoking the flames of political battles and misunderstandings, let’s imitate the one who models radical love and forgiveness.
“This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” With this promise, Jesus answered the humble request of a thief dying next to him, who had said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
During severe trials, our faith can be tested, and we may, in our worst moments, feel God has forgotten us–but Jesus’ words reveal he always remembers us. During the pandemic, let us pray: “Lord, remember the vulnerable, home bound and lonely, the sick and the dying. Remember the medical professionals battling this new illness. Remember those who have lost jobs. Remember the whole world!”
“Woman, behold thy son.” Mary, who once placed her son in the crib, is with him at the cross. The mother who was told a sword would pierce her heart, now feels the blade.
Jesus is aware of her suffering and wants to ensure her protection by entrusting her to John’s care. In that moment, he gives us the enormous treasure of a mother who will never forsake us.
“Now we can understand why Christ was called her firstborn,” wrote Bishop Fulton Sheen. “Not because she was to have other children by the blood of flesh, but because she was to have other children by the blood of her heart.”
We are the children of Mary by the blood of her heart, and especially now, she is “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”
“My God! My God! Why has thou forsaken me?” This line comes from Psalm 22, which opens with an anguished sense of isolation. On the cross, Jesus experienced unimaginable physical pain and also suffered from the crushing sense of being alone.
Psalm 22, however, ends with an assurance of God’s merciful protection: “God did not run away from me, but heard me when I cried out.” This is God’s promise to us today, as we grapple with fears associated with the virus. He will never leave us and will always hear our prayers.
“I thirst.” Two simple, yet heart-breaking words, because anyone who has experienced intense thirst knows its agony. Still, Jesus is longing for something beyond water, which is our love and surrender. These two words inspired Mother Teresa to begin her ministry to suffering people, whom others had spurned.
During this crisis, we also can minister to others through acts of kindness and through our prayers, which help satiate the divine thirst.
“It is finished.” These words tell us Jesus’ mission on earth is completed. Bishop Sheen writes, “Whether our work will ever be finished depends entirely on how we relive His life and become other Christs, for His Good Friday and His passion avail us nothing unless we take up His Cross and follow Him.”
We’ve been handed the cross of this pandemic, and we can ask God for the grace to carry it, so we may become “other Christs” to the world.
“Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” Jesus utters this line from Psalm 31, as he surrenders everything to God with perfect trust. During this pandemic, let’s remember that our lives are completely in God’s loving hands.
May our prayer echo words from this same psalm: “I trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in your love.”
Artwork (“The Crucifixion”) is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.