Fr. Paul Kunkumbira
The global village has been hard hit by the invisible but ruthless enemy, Corona virus. The standards of living across the world have been pushed to a great change and adjustment. Sadly, many lives of our beloved family and friends have been lost. The virus has left behind a distressed and broken population throughout the village, which is afraid to hold hands, help others out and enjoy the gift of life.
The brokenness and distress that the world has been forced to embrace has not spared the community of priests and the church at large. Our joy in bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the sick, the aged and the prisoners is eliminated forthwith. The love that we experience in interacting with the mass congregants in this anti-social world is gone. The family we cherish for having been invited for meals in our extended Christian homes is sadly quenched. Instead we have been forced to sit back at home, lonely and extremely careful.
The Eucharist, our daily companion, thinks differently about our present plight. Being broken is not entirely negative. It is sometimes the price that has to be paid in order to recreate the world. In the Emmaus experience, Jesus had to break the bread not just for the sake of causing disruption and pain to it but to make it ready for sharing with the disciples (Luke 24.30).
Learning from this companion, the ‘breaking’ corona virus prepares us to share something precious with the world. Our experiences with the virus today prepare us to be the Lord’s companions in creating the world anew. Listening to the world today, the Gospel seems to be that which advises us to ‘stay at home.’ This is an advice that breaks us as priests and the church. It seems to deny our very vocation to ‘go into the entire world and preach the Gospel to everyone.’ (Mark 16.15). This pain conversely is the pain of labour leading to the birth of a meditative and contemplative lifestyle of priests and the church that was slowly dying to a busy and active world. The experience of remaining home is taking the priest back to a desert life where one is alone with God. Jesus teaches us to always find time away from our engagements and engage the quiet God residing in our hearts (Luke 5.16). As Elijah shares, we find God in the serene and peaceful lands after which God’s servant has enough time to invigorate their souls and accept new ministries and apostolates. (I Kings 19.12).
The current pandemic has also broken the priest with the persistent consciousness of being extremely ‘careful.’ Whenever we have the chance to say mass, we have to say it with the recommended mask on our mouth. If we have a chance to distribute communion, then we must be sure to wash our hands thoroughly with soap. If we get into contact with any surface, we have to sanitize our hands. This is a painful awareness that seems to resound in our hearts, “Father, do not be the host to the virus.” This pain may be fruitful and shared to our daily priestly life. It could be a reminder for us to keep and observe the inner cleanliness that our soul deserves. Here is the force pushing us to regular confessions – a sanitizer of our soul. An opportunity to receive the grace of conversion (John 21. 17) and be restored to an intimate relationship with God (CCC art. 1468). Here is the magnet attracting us to regular retreats that will socially distance us from sin. The pain of putting on a mask should leave us stronger to fetch the counsels of scripture that will keep us from breathing inordinate worldly desires and vices. This would be a beginning of a lifelong commitment to living in fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus.
The Church and priests in the third world have over this period been exposed to little or no financial and material support. The faithful that come happily to support their priests every Sunday are nowhere to be seen or come in small numbers. The pain of helplessness looms. A fellow priest here at St. Kizito Minor Seminary asked me; ‘Ase, koma tasavaiva bwanji miyezi ya coronayi opanda alawansi?’ (My friend, how have we survived this corona virus period without any upkeep allowance?). The pain of losing out on the faithful’s material support must re-enact that faith that we survive on the mercy and goodness of God alone. We are dependent on God (Psalm 145.16) and all else are instruments in the hands of this Benevolent creator. He created us. He gave us the ministry. He sees us through our daily needs. For all these St. Paul extols us to give thanks to God the Father (Ephesians 5.20)
In conclusion, the pandemic is a sad reality among us. It is obviously a period to forget. But the Holy Spirit works subtly. He is the creating force. Within this, the Holy Spirit is creating us anew. In spite of all pain, neither our faith, confidence nor love should be shaken. A new world and re-energised ministry could be a beautiful tribute to those we have lost and those who have suffered this hard time.