The world is groaning under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic with more than a million getting sick, and the lives of thousands barely hanging by the thread. The death toll is staggering. And the end is nowhere in sight. Even the most advanced economies of the Western world have been overwhelmed by the rapacity of this invisible enemy. Cardinal Tagle put it most aptly in his mass reflection – “This virus is making us aware that all our successes and inventions, good as they are in themselves, they do not guarantee life, x x x” the Cardinal reflected.
As we contemplate on the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ this Good Friday while being quarantined in our homes, we reflect on the words of prophet Isaiah about our Savior – as the man and God despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. In the final moments of his passion and death, Jesus gasped his final breath. Only a small group of people chose to stay with him at the foot of the cross. All the disciples except for John abandoned him fearful of the Jews’ wrath if they find that they were associated with the “criminal and blasphemer.” John and Jesus’ suffering mother Mary and a few other women remained courageous and not afraid to be seen with the suffering Jesus.
For far too long, much like what Isaiah said, we have despised and rejected the Lord; and instead embraced the world. We ignored him and rejected with contempt his cross as a symbol of death, failure and shame. We abandoned him fearful that the stigma of the cross will taint our standing in society, lessen our chances of becoming “successful” in our society, mocked by our peers. But the cross of Christ, regarded by many as a symbol of failure, is in fact God’s service to humanity; an expression of his unfathomable love for us. Christ’s suffering shows us of God’s calling to discard our idols and serve others. Pope Francis teaches: Jesus, the Servant of God gives us an example of service. The glory of Jesus was serving until death. “It seemed a defeat but it was a way of serving”, he said. He further elaborates on this, saying – When the People of God distance themselves from the attitude of serving, they are a “People that have apostatized”. This leads them to construct their lives on other loves that are often idolatrous and they lose their vocation (to serve).
God, through this pandemic, is calling on us all to carry, just as Our Savior carried his cross faithfully until the very end, the collective weight of the suffering we find ourselves in, with love, compassion and understanding.
Compassion for the sick and dying; understanding, not discrimination and intolerance, for the doctors, nurses, health care providers and other service providers fighting this disease; love and compassion for the suffering, especially those, because of this contagion, are hungry or may have lost their means of livelihood.
Showing his soft heart for the poor, Pope Francis recognized this suffering by reflecting “We’re beginning to see people who are hungry because they can’t work,” “They may not have had a regular job, and from many other circumstances. We’re beginning to see the aftermath that will come later. But it’s beginning now. We pray for the families who are beginning to find themselves in need because of the pandemic,” he said.
Understandably, we all lament and show grief over the pain and suffering that surround us. It is not wrong to cry. The Lord himself wept when he saw Martha and Mary grieving over the death of his friend Lazarus. But in the midst of his lamentation, he chose to manifest his love by raising Lazarus from the dead. He chose to serve rather than leave his friends to brood over their misery and grief.
In times like this, Christ is calling us, more than ever, to become servants. According to Pope Francis, “Each one of us has a destiny, a free destiny, the destiny of being chosen by God. I am born with the destiny…chosen to be a child of God, to be a servant of God with the task of serving.” Yes, to carry the cross is to serve, just as Jesus served humanity by bearing faithfully the tremendous burden of the cross. By his death, he gave us life and brought the love of God to the farthest and darkest places in which humanity has been trapped in its flight from him, that is, death. For Pope Francis, to be Christian is to accept Christ even to the cross.
Truly, this Good Friday we are called upon to be one with our Savior in carrying the cross to the Calvary by embracing our own crosses of fear, anxieties and uncertainties in the service of others; partake in the death of Christ by dying to our old egoistic, selfish, hateful and sinful selves; and throw away the idols which are consuming and controlling our lives.
Let us not abandon Christ to hang alone on the cross, but instead follow him to the Calvary and unto death itself to share in his paschal mystery. Only through this can we give real meaning to our lives in this time of crisis! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao)