Saturday, March 27, 2021

COVID and the Ways of Our "Crosses" ... With Jesus

It is Saturday, March the twenty-seventh, in the year two-thousand-twenty-one.

Last year, March began with hints of Spring in the air. By the end of the month, however, the world seemed to have rolled off its axis and into a dark hole. The COVID-19 Pandemic came roaring into the United States of America.

The past year has had no precedent in my lifetime. Nothing like this ever happened: the sudden spread of an evasive highly infectious worldwide pathogen bringing mild illness to many and deadly illness to some (relatively, we might even say "few," but still far too many for us to do nothing); the heroic efforts of doctors and scientists to contain it, along with the often chaotic responses of political officials who admittedly needed to address many complex social and economic concerns but who also - here in the USA at least - had to spin their responses through the vortex of the pressures and political conflicts of an election year.

A year later, here we are, still "dealing with the Pandemic." Vaccines are being rolled out, and high risk populations and essential workers are getting them with varying degrees of success and/or difficulty. Possibilities are also beginning to open up for a broader range of demographic groups. The challenges of the vaccination campaign, nevertheless, remain formidable. Meanwhile, we have almost become accustomed to the infection-limiting rituals that have allowed businesses, stores, restaurants, and many schools to open after the lockdowns of last Spring. 

Generally, people continue to follow prudently the indications and recommendations of public authorities (which vary in many ways from one U.S. State to another, or even between different local areas within States). Lots of people continue to be devastated by the economic impact. Many others have been mentally afflicted by all the uncustomary stress and social restrictions that have been imposed, then lifted, then imposed again (this latter experience is even more characteristic of Europe, I think).

We have vaccines, which should work against mutations of the virus. Still, we remain in this weird zone of living differently and not seeing clearly how this will all play out. Some parts of the world, no doubt, will get control over Covid-19 more quickly and more effectively than others.

As a "semi-invalid" since 2008, I didn't think my material life would change all that much when everyone else was placed under restrictions. In fact, though I have appreciated from long experience the concerns and difficulties of others about being "stuck-in-the-house," the Covid world has also been bizarre and perplexing in new ways for me personally. I still have my own chronic health problems, which have not fared well recently. Lyme Disease is not acting up more than usual (technically I'm "cured" - no thanks to the medical people in my country who made up the still-very-disputed criteria for all this in 2007 - but I still have a "syndrome"... or whatever...) and I'm taking extra care to ensure that it doesn't have any reason to flare up.

Mental health is a different story. I have had some significant episodes of depression in this past year. Depression is the "funk," the bewilderment, the immobilization of healthy inclinations, the ponderousness of mind which I have come to recognize as "physical" - as an affliction of the physical dimension of the cognitive/emotional process. Of course, the human mind and heart transcend this process (in the depths of the spiritual person) but they don't detach themselves from it.

Sometimes I feel so ... isolated. I feel like an impenetrable blob, disconnected from everything. It's a "feeling" that I know doesn't define me, but still... it's a feeling, every bit as much as a punch in the stomach is a "feeling."

It's a form of suffering

I know that the greatest suffering peculiar to the Pandemic is endured by people who get the grave, life-threatening version of this disease, who are sick and isolated in hospitals: especially people who die alone, and their loved ones who could not be with them. I cannot imagine what an awful catastrophe this has been for them. My heart and my prayers are with them.

But other kinds of suffering in relation to these times are also real. Many have been afflicted in many ways.

A year of the COVID crisis has been a huge strain on my mental health. I will not emerge without "damage," but we'll work through it. I have medication, of course, and ZOOM consultations with the doctor. As Nick Fury says, "this is not my first rodeo," but I can only imagine how much strain this is for so many people - how much suffering people continue to endure, how desperate they have become.

It's so hard, my friends. I know. 

Some of you I have corresponded with via social media. Or I have heard of your distress in the news. Young people - who need to meet other young people, socialize with them, have a life of growing and experiencing new things together - my heart goes out to you especially. It has been hard for my own kids/young-adults to navigate this past year. In our area, the schools and universities opened last Fall and have managed to stay open. But I know that many young people are still struggling in more restricted circumstances. Let us hope things get better soon.

But things will never be the same for people who have lost jobs and/or had careers or businesses fall apart. I know how hard that is, how shocking, how traumatic. It creates a lot of material problems, but also causes its own type of grief. I know how that is. I'm still broken myself from my own previous experiences of this kind of loss. (You can read about my story in THIS BOOK [click HERE] - which is from 2010 but still relevant and, I hope, helpful.)

Grief. That's another thing I'm still trying to endure. 2020 seems like a warp in the time-space continuum. Grief got "shelved" temporarily (I don't know how else to put it), like time had just stopped along with everything else.

Last year, if I thought about the loss of my father in 2019, I felt - in part - a certain "relief" that we were able to accompany him through his own final illness (which was awful enough). Those days in March of 2019 seemed more precious last year, as I heard stories of elderly people dying alone in confusion and pain, in hospitals, without their children and grandchildren, sometimes (if they were Catholic) even without the sacraments of the Church, which are such a tremendous help to sick people.

We had so much time at my father's bedside. I am so grateful for that time, even though it was still shattering in its own way, even though it ended in his death.

Now, it is two years ago that he lay dying. I find that I am grieving again. I miss Dad so much.

Everything has gone "crazy" in the past three years. Last year the whole world "decided to join in" and turn upside down. But now I feel very close again to those days at the end of March 2019, my final days with my Dad, and all the days that came before, when he was still with us in this life. I wish I had loved him more, and listened to him more. He had such a good heart.

I'm glad he had so much time with his grandchildren. They gave him so much joy. His eyes-that-were-of-this-world are now closed, so he will not look upon his great-granddaughter when she is born in July (nor will she look upon him in this present age). But I will tell her about him, and we will pray for him.

I know that he is still near to all of us, through the Heart of Jesus. I know by faith... but such knowledge is the light before dawn, and sometimes it seems a luminous darkness. Faith does not take away grief. Grief must be endured, with all its strangeness. Faith reminds me that this endurance, and all our sufferings, have meaning.

Jesus does not leave us alone in our suffering.

Two years ago, while we kept vigil with my father, I wrote the words below (in the burgundy color) on my BLOG. Who is this guy who writes this stuff? Me, JJ, the Christian Wimp? I relate to the disciples when the storm came and Jesus was asleep in the boat, and they said "Help! Please wake up! We're going to sink!" I am "he-of-little-faith," and I'm not just playing humble here. Ask anybody who knows me. Ask my wife or any of my kids.

But I know what I write here is true, and I must say it. Sometimes I glimpse it myself... in a moment... like Peter when he stepped out onto the water. His initial boldness reminds me of myself 30+ years ago, as an aspiring young philosopher and theologian. And that too was born of faith. It still is, when reason sees the whole truth of reality in faith, when we walk on water toward the face of Jesus.

But most of the time, I'm like Peter looking at himself on the water and going, "What am I doing? This is impossible! It's crazy!" And then I'm drowning and I cry out, "Jesus, save me!" He grabs hold of me.

That's my whole life. Letting Jesus grab a hold of me. What matters is not whether or not I can water-ski. What matters is that He is here.

He is here. That's where these words came from, two years ago. The fact of His presence with us. He really is here: 

We walk with Jesus on the path of our own suffering, offering ourselves and whatever we are called to endure to God our Father, as He draws us by the Holy Spirit into a deeper participation in Christ's "Pascal Mystery" - the Event of His death and resurrection. Here God reveals and gives Himself as Love.

The Mystery who makes us and all things reveals Himself as "the Mystery of Unfathomable Love."

He always remains "Mystery," higher and deeper than our comprehension, but He is the super-luminous Mystery of Truth and Love who gives meaning and purpose to our lives. And He is the Mystery who shows His love for us by coming to dwell with us, the Mystery-made-flesh. 
He is with us. Our very flesh is akin to His flesh, as we were created - each one of us, and all of us, every human being - to be His brothers and sisters. 
And it is Unfathomable Love that takes up all our vulnerabilities and (for the sake of Love) bears them all the way to the end. He reveals the glory of Divine Love by taking upon Himself and enduring our weakness, our suffering, and even our sins by which we have separated ourselves from Him and one another. 
God loves us. He is infinitely "deeper" (as Love) than our hatred and violence and selfishness and all the horrible wounds we inflict by sin, and He wants to be with us. He is also deeper than our sorrows, burdens, fears, and infirmities. 
He is with us in our infirmities. Indeed He has made them His own by love, and has begun even now to transfigure them from within. 
We who live an apparently insignificant life in this frail flesh, who grow old and sick and dispossessed of everything we thought we could control as we slip away into the obscurity of death - we are grains of wheat sown deep in the earth with Jesus in His death, and the mysterious power of His resurrection already begins to bear fruit in us. 
Jesus is here, carrying us in our infirmities, because He wants to be with us. He does not love our suffering. He loves us. He is transforming our suffering, and He calls on us to trust in Him to continue and fulfill this work of purification and transfiguration He has begun in us.