“We announce to you the good news that the promise made to our fathers has been fulfilled by God for our children by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32).
Dear Brother/Sister with COVID-19,
I am tempted to greet you, “Happy Easter!”
In fact, I have already done that just now, if only to take a chance at cheering you up. But I also cannot imagine how Easter could be happy to someone suffering from COVID-19, especially considering the distinct possibility not only of you rising up from it eventually cured but also of developing complications and, God forbid, leaving us and the world as we know it with finality.
But then again, who am I to say an Easter greeting would make no difference to you?
So please let me say it again, “Happy Easter” or, as I actually prefer saying, “A blessed Easter to you!”
I cannot pretend, I do not pretend, to know what exactly you are going through. It is true, many times I have seen videos of you trying to reach out to us, to your loved ones, to anyone interested, trying to warn us to take the current form of corona virus seriously by allowing us to see what it has done to you. On the other hand, it seems so obvious that in your isolation you are also just as scared, probably even more so, as we are, of the unseen monster that, in horrific ways, has held you and all of us healthy ones hostage. And your loneliness also shows through. It is heartbreaking. No matter how you try to keep it from us, your eyes and face cannot lie. If it is any consolation, many of us hear you.
What I particularly find riveting is the thought that I could be in your shoes. From childhood till my adult life I have been downed by the common flu several times. It strikes me that COVID-19 could come, so innocuously it seems, with symptoms that resemble the affliction that had tormented me during unpleasantly unforgettable periods of my life. My own mother’s prayers and caresses—she was never afraid of the flu virus which, if my memory serves me right, I nonetheless failed to transmit to her—were just as potent against the illness. My brothers’ and sisters’ voices, banters, well-meaning jokes and other activities around the house gave me so much reassurance of a loving and caring environment. Recovery was just a matter of time. And when priest friends saw me fully recovered, some would even quote part of the Regina Coeli, saying, “Resurexit sicut dixit (He rose just as he promised)!” I knew I was back to earth.
But this is exactly what COVID-19 has deprived you of.
Isolation or self-quarantine, however it is called, has inflicted a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between you and the ones you love. What is more, you as well as they have no choice on the matter. Even if they wanted to, the authorities and existing quarantine protocols prevent them from keeping you in the warmth of their love, company and care. Sometimes I find it amusing to think that this corona virus seems tailored to our age where social media have connected us more easily and economically than where we were just a few years ago. Thankfully because of video calling and other communication devices and applications we can reach you and you can reach us. We do not have to imagine how difficult it is for you to breathe, speak or make the most ordinary movements we healthy ones take for granted. We see all these brought home to us through the stark realism of our laptops’ and cell phones’ cameras. But we still cannot hold your hand nor even touch your head in a gesture of prayer, much less give you a hug. You yourself warn us never to come within a meter of the hospital they are keeping you in. When you weep, at least we can weep with you. It is hard to keep a straight face when we see your tears flowing more easily than your words.
I can only imagine the dark thoughts that once in a while cross your mind. Perhaps you already know about the frontliners, sometimes real couples brave and caring health workers (doctors, nurses etc.) who got infected while attending to patients and eventually died. Do not focus on their dying at the expense of their humanity and heroism. Remember the person because of whom there is Easter was himself not exempt from dark thoughts. Did he not even beg the heavens, “Father, if it be possible, take this cup (of suffering) away from me” (Mt 26:39; Lk 22:42)? And even as he was to add, “Yet not my will but your will be done” (same verses), it does not detract one bit from the fact that he shared the same agony of staring death in the face with you and, by extension, with us healthy ones. For COVID-19 also at times occasions the same dark thoughts being overcast in our own mind’s horizons. This is no surprise. We all know the virus, like hatred and love, can come to us in the most unexpected places and circumstances.
It might seem hard to believe, maybe even beyond rationality for some, but all I am saying is that you are not alone. The isolation COVID-19 has pushed people into is, if you could just think some more, just an illusion. Easter has made it possible for the Risen One to enter even closed doors and penetrate walls just so he could be with those who belong to him to say, “Shalom, peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). Even when you feel so alone, he is most in touch with you for he himself went through the same trial, even questioning his own Father in the process: “Eli, Eli, lemma sabachtani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34), re-echoing the prayer of lament from the psalmist in Ps 22:1.
It is a matter of faith. Believe it. He laments the pain of isolation with you. He feels the pangs of the sense of abandonment by loved ones with you. Most of all, he shows you that the abandonment, like the COVID-19-induced sense of me-and-no-other-against-a-proven-killer, is a ploy of the ancient enemy who whispers in our ears during our unguarded moments that we are no good, and nobody cares at all if we live or die. No, the Risen One says. “I am with you till the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
Perhaps you might have even entertained thoughts of being punished for your sins or of receiving your share in a divine chastisement of sinful humanity. Our leaders in the Church frown on such a way of looking at COVID-19. It does not simply square with the teaching of Jesus and of the Scriptures regarding God who is Love and Mercy itself. It might seem more attuned to the destructive nature of sin itself and that there are consequences to our sinfulness. Perhaps, as some believers say, COVID-19 could be one of those consequences. So perish the thought that God the all-loving and the almighty Father is punishing you and sinful mankind with the corona virus. If in your harrowing moments you try to look where the virus came from, the key perhaps is to see that it was sinful human beings who put the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. Not the other way around.
There is also another reason why you are not alone. We are with you. No, not because we stand or sit by your bed. We are with you in a deeper way. We are constantly praying for you and with you. When we receive the Risen One through Communion we are also one with you; he connects us with you more intimately than the breath of your body, than the hairs of your head. He is not only our Way, our Truth and our Life (Jn 14:6). He is our Vine, we his branches (Jn 15:5).
So sail on, brother. Sail on, sister. Sail on and savor your part in the great journey of sharing the suffering, the dying and the Risen One’s rising. This is the point of having been baptized, remember? And when the sailing gets rough, wake him up from his sleep and beg for his saving action on your behalf and ours. Our voices will join yours.
Have a blessed, though quarantined, Easter!