What Good Can Come Out Of This Crisis
Several days ago, my wife, who works for Park Ave Elementary School, received a request from the Webster Public Schools asking if our Church could help them by putting together 15 food baskets for some very needy families. I sent out an email to our Church Family and within 24 hours, we received $1650 and 12 baskets, with others willing to give more if there is a need! Imagine that! Even though people are anxious and worried about the uncertainties of these days, there are still many who want to reach out and help those in need. This is the type of Church Family we have!
It is precisely in times of crisis when some people turn inward and become egocentric, while authentic followers of Jesus Christ do the exact opposite. Crises and challenging times help us develop sharper eyes to see those in need, and more compassionate hearts that reach out and help others! This is what it means to be a Christian!
I witnessed another simple example of reaching out toward others when I asked our Parish Council and some members of our Bible Study groups to each call up a number of parishioners within our Church Family, just to check up on them and to let them know that the Church is thinking of them and ready to help them if they have any particular needs. I divided up the names and asked each of these leaders to call up 8 people. At first one member said that they couldn’t do this because they were too overwhelmed with work and busy with other things. Yet as each person began making calls and connecting with different parishioners, this particular member, who initially didn’t think they had enough time to make the effort, decided to call up a few people. A couple days later she texted me and said, “As I called people, I realized how happy they were to hear from me and to receive a call from the church. It made me feel so good to reach out to them. Now, each day I call a couple more people, and I keep looking for others to call beyond the list of names that you gave me!” One of our other council members told me something similar: “It was so meaningful to call up all the names on my list that after a few days, I decided to call them all up a second time!”
There is a joy in giving, a joy in doing something for someone else! Life is empty if it is only about taking care of ourselves, if it is only about worrying and protecting ourselves and our loved ones. The deepest meaning in life comes when we live for something greater than ourselves, when we discover the incredible joy in loving God and seeing the face of God in others, especially in those who are suffering, marginalized, and in need.
Many people face uncertain days ahead, with unemployment on the rise and as we hear more and more cases of the coronavirus attacking people we actually know. Just yesterday, I heard about three specific coronavirus cases. One of our parishioners, Helen Zenon, lost an uncle who lives in NY, and his wife now has the virus. And one of my students at Holy Cross, whose wife we have been praying for on our Church’s prayer list because she has been battling cancer, told me that his daughter has the coronavirus. They live in a small apartment and are deeply concerned about what will happen next. Please keep them in your prayers!
As this tragedy takes more and more of a personal face, we will be tempted with greater fear and anxiety, we will be tempted to just take care of and protect ourselves. Yet in the midst of these self-centered temptations, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What does God want me to do at this time? How does He want me to respond to the growing fear and anxiety? Not only what can I learn from this crisis, but just as important, how can I act as God’s presence by helping others? What good can come out of this crisis”
Last week I preached about God “testing our hearts” during these uncertain times. God is asking us to sincerely repent and turn away from all that is false and meaningless in our lives and turn towards the ways of the Lord, towards all that makes life so beautiful and full of purpose.
In line with turning towards God, I want us to highlight finding ways that we can reach out towards others. We look at the courageous and sacrificial work of the frontline health care workers like the nurses in our own church here, as well as around our country, and all those who need to continue going to work even in risky circumstances. I think of my nephew who is a pharmacist but also a diabetic, yet he is working overtime to cover the shifts of those who can’t come to work, even though this virus could be very compromising to him.
For those of us who don’t have to leave our homes, we must especially look for ways to turn towards God by helping others. Calling up people we know who are alone or who may be afraid and anxious is one way. When you go out to the supermarket or pharmacy, asking others if you can get them something is another way. Reaching out to our neighbors who we may not really know and letting them know that we are there for them in case of any emergencies can become a beautiful opportunity to draw closer to our neighbors. Maybe we can simply write notes to encourage and comfort people who are feeling afraid. Or let us consciously post positive and uplifting messages on social media to offset all the negative bad news out there. We also can offer a donation to churches, organizations and individuals who are helping the most needy. Be creative and think about how we can help others!
Of course, this conscious effort of turning towards God by reaching out toward those in need has always been a central Lenten spiritual discipline. Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving, or Acts of Mercy and Love are fundamental Lenten disciplines! We have now reached the 4th Sunday of our Lenten journey. This is the day we remember St John of the Ladder, the famous spiritual father of St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai who wrote the classic book “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” In this writing he described the spiritual life as a journey up a ladder, which leads into the Kingdom of Heaven. He taught how we must wisely understand the challenges and dangers of climbing this spiritual ladder. What are the virtues that we must cultivate in our lives, and what are the vices we must take care to avoid or weed out!?!
During these uncertain and stressful times, one of the central vices we must be aware of is our egocentric tendency to take care of ourselves and ourselves alone. One of the crucial virtues we need to cultivate is remembering that divine love is all about our neighbor, loving God implies loving our neighbor, the other!
Good can come out of this crisis. By being stuck in our homes, hopefully we are having more quality time with our families. Hopefully we are finding more time to pray and meditate and read some enriching books. Hopefully we are appreciating our churches all the more as we miss the liturgical services and our Church fellowship and especially receiving the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ through Holy Communion. There is much good that can come out of this crisis.
Yet let us be conscious about this specific good - consciously trying to find ways to reach out to our neighbor, especially to those who lost their job, to those who are alone and afraid, to those who are anxious and stressed out, to those most marginalized of society.
Let us create good out of this crisis.
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