Fear is a mental and spiritual virus. It spreads faster and more efficiently than any airborne disease. Its symptoms are at times anger, aggression, isolation, despair, irrationality, loss of faith, and clouded judgement, among other things. And if there is one emotion that dominates the world at this time, it is a deep and abiding fear.
It is no wonder, for the situation we now face is unprecedented, and that is no exaggeration. Even in times past, when great plagues would strike parts of the earth, they were usually isolated to a specific locale. Even when all of Europe succumbed to the Black Death, it was far from a global pandemic.
Nor are we used to such drastic reactions from world leaders, who are now taking steps to contain the virus that have rarely been seen in the modern world. This is shocking to us. Compared to times past, our lives are usually safe, well-controlled and painless. We avoid the weather with air conditioning and central heat. We shop at supermarkets stocked with every imaginable good. We can choose from restaurants offering countless flavors and cuisines when deciding what to eat for dinner. We communicate across the world in a fraction of a second with our digital devices. Even a headache can be banished with a few pain-reducing pills.
So we are not used to it when things spin out of control, or when many of our modern conveniences are taken from us on a moment’s notice. It fills us with uncertainty and a deep anxiety. But the truth is, we don’t control the world nearly as much as we think we do. While we’d like to believe we can foresee and prevent all disasters, it simply is not true. The illusion of control is being shattered.
The Master of the Storm
Our state could be compared to the gospel account of the disciples on the sea of Galilee in the midst of a terrifying storm. Here were seasoned fisherman who know the sea well. Their entire lives were spent on the water, and they were no strangers to its quickly changing moods.
And yet, reading the gospel account, it seems that even these seasoned sailors were caught off guard by the violence of this storm. In the midst of the crashing waves and biting winds, they simply lost control. This never happened to them. They were used to being confident on the water, masters of themselves and their vessel. The shock of sudden helplessness left them terrified, and seemingly within inches of certain death.
To make matters worse, their Master was somehow asleep during all of this. How was this even possible? Perhaps it speaks of the deep physical exhaustion Jesus felt after ministering to countless multitudes. Or perhaps he was simply testing them. It is impossible to know for certain. What we do know is that the terrified disciples woke him in desperation.
“Do you not care that we are about to die?” they screamed in desperation over the howling winds. And in that moment, Jesus arises. Without saying a word, he stands up in all his majesty and authority. With the full power of his creative word, the same word that brought the foundations of the earth into existence, Jesus cries out, his arms outstretched like Moses before the Red Sea, “Peace, be still.” And immediately, the winds and waves obeyed, ceasing their violent tumult. They could do nothing else.
The disciples were dumbfounded. One could imagine them, their mouths agape and eyes wide as they stared at him. It is conceivable that they simply expected him to wake up and do his part to navigate the boat safely to shore. They simply wanted an extra pair of hands on deck. But they did not expect this display of power—and they were afraid.
Who was this man who could command the elements as easily as a man commanded a tamed beast? What manner of authority did he possess? Perhaps the familiar words of Genesis came flooding back to their minds of the God who could do all things with a simple fiat. He had only to say, “let there be,” and it was done.
A Lent of the Heart
We are in the midst of Lent and simultaneously in the midst of a global health crisis. Many have lost all faith in our political and religious leaders, and they find themselves angry, frustrated, and afraid. Most of all, many are filled with the anxiety born of uncertainty. Will I lose my job? How long will this last? Will I or those I love be infected? How long will we be cut off from the healing grace of the sacraments? These and other questions plague us.
And yet we must remember that within every crisis there is a call. It is a call to conversion, a call to repentance. For God does not desire our comfort nearly as much as he desires our conversion. He does not desire us to have easy lives as much as he desires us with broken hearts to turn back to him. He desires our maturity, our growth in sanctity, our spiritual development far more than he desires our temporal ease.
Even more, he desires us to forsake our sins and wickedness—and oh, how the world is filled with wickedness. We have committed every imaginable evil and shaken our fist in God’s face personally and collectively for decades. We are so numb to this reality that we scarcely realize it. But it is true. We have forsaken the good God who has given us everything and shamelessly broken all of his commandments.
This is a trying time, but it is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to examine our lives, our consciences, and our priorities. It is a chance to look heavenward and call out to God with all our hearts. Like the disciples, we must wake the power of our Master, Jesus Christ, with our prayers. He alone can calm our hearts, heal us, and save us, now and always. In abandoning our illusions of control and surrendering ourselves to his mercy, we find peace.
Let us then not waste this Lent. Let us make it a Lent of the heart. Let us fast outwardly but also inwardly. Let us accept the challenge that God has placed before us, striving to forsake shallowness and superficiality to grow in spiritual depth and maturity. Let us pray intensely, repent sincerely, and above all, give thanks for all things. For this is the will of God for us.
Yes, this crisis is but a call to return to the Father’s house. And the only way to have peace in these times is to come home.