[Homily. Assumption Chapel. Feb 10, 2020.]
Considering the novel coronavirus today, I do not know whether what you heard today from our Gospel comforts or disturbs you. When the people of Gennesaret recognized that the man who had come of the boat was Jesus, “they scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it was healed” (Mk. 6:54-56).
There are many such accounts of people bringing their sick to Jesus and his curing them. Among my favorites is the story of four men who wish to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus. “When they could not come near him because of the crowd,” Mark narrates, “they uncovered the roof where Jesus was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’” Later, to show that he did have the power to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house” (Mk. 2:3-12). The paralytic rose, cured. But Jesus also cured the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:1-6), the daughter of the Roman centurion (Lk 7:1-10), and raised the son of the widow of Nain to restore him to his mother (Lk.7:11-17). Jesus was a mighty preacher who enthralled his listeners because he spoke with authority. But very precious to the people who encountered him was that he was a healer. He was happy to heal people, even if only by allowing people to touch the tassel of his cloak.
That is why for the past weeks, before every Mass here in this chapel, we have been praying, “Lord Jesus, in the compassion of the Father and with the healing love of the Spirit, you commanded the lame to walk, the deaf to speak, the blind to see; you brought the dead to life. You created signs for us to be sensitive to God’s love in our lives. As the Wuhan coronavirus claims more and more victims, we ask you to stretch your healing hand over the city of Wuhan, the province of Hubei, over all of China, and overall the world.” We have been praying this since the infections were at about 2000 and the deaths 64. However, things apparently are getting worse. Yesterday there were 37,575 cases of the new coronavirus worldwide. Of these 6,196 are severe. 2,915 have recovered. But 814 have died, including the young Chinese doctor who tried to warn people of the lethalness of the new virus but was censured for doing so by the Wuhan government.
That may be disturbing for some. Why does our compassionate healing God allow this international health emergency to worsen? We have prayed that he shield our Filipino people, our city of Davao and our relatives and friends from this virus. But one Filipino is among those infected in the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, three Chinese persons have died in the Philippines from the virus. There is a general feeling of vulnerability. Many people are scared. Many are seeking refuge behind masks.
And so we ask, what may God the healer want to convey to us through this coronavirus?
One may be that he is the master of the universe, and it is not the case that man has killed God and has taken over mastery of the universe. It is not the case that God is dead. For all man’s science and power and industry, God is still in control. This may be an occasion to rediscover the presence of God in our world and in our lives, to cease worshipping our false idols, and to bow down to the one God in awe.
Second, if we say have prayed for God to end the coronavirus, perhaps we have not prayed enough. Perhaps, we have prayed to manipulate him, rather than say, “Thy will be done!”
Third, perhaps we have not shown enough gratitude for the thousands of men and women worldwide who are working night and day and risking their lives, indeed, have already given up their lives, in order to implement the healing will of God. Or, in this vein, perhaps we have not shown enough gratitude for the health we enjoy. Perhaps God is already working miracles in our lives. Unlike the nine lepers he made clean, we must not forget to thank the Lord for the health he continues to restore in our lives (Lk 17:9-17).
Fourth, perhaps we have only shown selfish fear for ourselves and failed in our lives to mirror the compassion and love of the Father for those afflicted. Those who fall victim to this virus are human. So too Chinese throughout the world. Perhaps the Lord is leading us to be more willing to help them, more willing to be in solidarity with them and with the world as it struggles to bring this international emergency to an end. Perhaps, even in the Philippines, we are being led to be more cooperative with our national health officials who need to make hard decisions to respond to the contagion, to prevent the loss of life, and to achieve the common good.
I am certain: God does not will human suffering. But we know: God writes straight with crooked lines in dealing with human beings he has created intelligent and free. If we seek to find him in the signs of our times, we must also seek to find him even when in our family or in ourselves illness strikes; or when despite our limitations and fears, we are called to respond to the suffering not only of our close relatives but of our unknown neighbor, whom God commands us to love as we love ourselves. Often, we are called upon really to be the Good Samaritan who refused to ignore the wounded human being on the roadside but went out of his way to help him (cf. Lk 10: 25-37). As the coronavirus claims more and more victims and seems to come closer to ourselves, we are called upon not to pray less, but to pray more, and find our trust in the power of the Lord. After he rebuked the winds and the rains, the Lord said, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mk 4:40). We are called upon not to be more selfish cowering in fear, but in faith to reach out to others in compassion, courage, and care. Remember the message of yesterday’s Gospel, “You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14).