FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 15, 2020:
Just a few years ago, in 2017, Pope Francis canonized two young people, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Francisco and Jacinta were two of the three children to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. In his homily for their canonization, Pope Francis said, “Confirmed in hope, we give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore Him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near to ‘the hidden Jesus’ in the tabernacle.”
Within two years of their experience of grace, their miraculous experience of the Blessed Mother, both Francisco and Jacinta would die as victims of the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. They were 9 and 10 years old. When Pope Francis canonized them in 2017, they became the youngest people ever to be canonized as saints of the church who did not die a martyr’s death.
I have been thinking a lot about the 1918 epidemic as it has tremendous resonance to what we are experiencing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost moment-by-moment, we hear of new protocols, new closures, new cases unfolding all over our country and all over our world. As we know, here in our diocese, Bishop da Cunha has called for various protocols on our behavior at Mass – all designed to minimize physical contact and lessen the threat of spreading the virus. The obligation to attend Mass this weekend was lifted and so you are all here on a voluntary basis. It would not surprise me in the days ahead if our diocese followed what others have done and ban all publicly celebrated Masses. We will keep you posted should that develop.
Just as a century ago, people today are experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety and uncertainty about what is taking place. In the midst of all of this, we can wonder how we should be responding. I believe that in the story of Francisco and Jacinta there is a very important lesson for us. The lesson is this – as tragic as the 1918 epidemic was, as challenging as this current pandemic is, God always wants to break through our struggles, our challenges, our pains, and our sorrows to spread His love; to be close to us in the midst of it all; to share our pain and turn it to joy. 1918 was a difficult time for the world. The First World War was winding down, and as the world was healing from those wounds, the Spanish flu raged across the globe. And in the midst of it, the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Light, appeared to these beautiful children in the countryside. Her message radiated out to the world. It was a message of light, joy, prayer, conversion, and peace. The world was not overcome by the darkness it experienced a century ago, instead it was flooded with God’s light.
Because of the coronavirus, our Lent is perhaps about to become the most serious Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we may be called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our prayer groups, fast from meeting for Bible Study, or faith formation, or the Stations of the Cross – this list can go on and on. This will perhaps be the hardest fast of our lives. But, it can also become the most fruitful we have ever experienced. There is great potential for this moment to be one of profound grace for each of us who embraces it.
Our Gospel today tells us of this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. And He says something quite ordinary to her that I think can become for us an extraordinary desire. He says, “Give me a drink.” Now, of course, we all know what it is like in life to be thirsty, this is a common experience. But, I think we also know, especially as people of faith, that the more important thirsts in life aren’t the physical ones, but the spiritual ones we encounter.
There are many references to the spiritual life as a thirst for God in the Old Testament. Psalm 42 says, “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul thirsts for the living God.” From Isaiah we hear God say, “Come to me, all you who are thirsty.” We all feel a thirst for God. This isn’t new. It is the same inner thirst that people have experienced since the beginning of time. The great Church father, St. Augustine explained it this way, “Our hearts are made for God, and they will not rest, until they rest in Him.” Another way of saying this is that we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill.
If we come to the point where attending Mass is not something available to us, let us not moan and complain, judge and second-guess our leaders. Instead let us be attentive to this fast and its power to make us profoundly thirsty, profoundly hungry for God. These extraordinary protocols will not last forever. In a matter of weeks, or perhaps months, we will return to normality. How will we use this time? Will we be attentive to the holy hunger that these days will induce in us? Hunger for the Eucharist, hunger for our community, hunger to be fed by God? Imagine the joy when we are able to gather around the Table of the Lord in the ways that we are so used to. In the meantime, listen to your “longing for running streams” and let it speak to your heart about your deep desire for what only God can give.
In the mist of the challenges a century ago, God broke in and His light shone in the darkness. It was a time that literally made saints. In the midst of this challenge, allow God to make you a saint too. One of the most well-known quotes of St. Padre Pio is, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” Let us make this our motto too during this challenging days. Let us pray for all those effected by this crisis; let us hope in God’s ability to be near to us and lead us through; and let us turn our worries into prayer, our anxieties into faith, handing them over to God.
Jesus, and Jesus alone, can calm the restlessness of our souls. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can satisfy the thirst in our hearts. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can fill the void in our lives. Jesus is the Son of God, who has come to fill that God-shaped hole in each of us. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who has come to calm that restlessness of our hearts. Jesus is the water from heaven, who has come to satisfy that spiritual thirst we feel.
Let us be attentive in these days to the work that God is doing in our hearts and let us be renewed in our hunger and thirst for God. O Lord, my heart is restless until it rests in You.
May the Lord give you peace.