Homily by Fr. Ro Atilano, SJ | 23 Apr 20
Can you feel it?
The world is becoming lonelier than ever. This more real in the urban areas where people are more preoccupied with work and nerve-wracking “busy-ness.”
Technology, social media in particular, has connected us to more people but, paradoxically, disconnected us from people near us, the ones who really matter to us. We are on our devices all the freaking time: during meals, at prayer, even affecting our sleeping time. There is less and less personal, human-to-human, face-to-face interaction.
Moreover, recent studies have shown that there is an increasing number of depression and suicide cases. According to the studies done by the National Youth Commission, 26 percent of the young people these days think “life is not worth living,” and 14 percent of them consider committing suicide. And here’s more: there is a growing number of young people, students and professionals, who admit that they have abandoned the faith. Some of them as young as those in the high school. What has happened? What have we become?
Whether there is a connection between loneliness and loss of one’s faith or not, we have to admit there is now a general sense of existential disconnection with ourselves, with each other, and with God compared with decades ago. There is a certain loss of zest for life, a lack of moral compass, and an absence of purpose. We have to admit that we have lost sight of what is truly important in life, of what truly matters, and of what we truly cannot live without.
Then, COVID-19 pandemic happened and awakened the world. We are stripped off of the many things that we used to do forcing us to live with only the most basic in life, with what is truly most important. We are forced to confront our unspeakable loneliness and rediscover our growing desire to find more meaning in life, an ardent search for lasting happiness, and yes, a desperate cry to find God again.
What can we do then during this crisis?
It is very easy to mask our loneliness by bingeing on TV series and engaging in mindless virtual games, spending hours and hours scrolling through our social media screens, indulging pleasurable habits that may eventually turn into addictions, or simply avoiding our personal feelings and our need for self-care.
We need to admit our loneliness and then enter into it with courage. There is no other way.
Where can we get this courage?
First, courage comes from the realization that we are never alone, that we loved. Even Jesus knew this very well and confident about this reality. In our Gospel today, he hear him saying, “the Father loves the Son and has given everything to him.” During this time of the pandemic, we realize that there are actually people to whom we can turn in our lives. Loneliness and aloneness are two different things. More importantly, in the Scriptures, God has promised that He will be with us, no matter what. The phrase, “Be not afraid,” appears 365 times in the Bible; that gives us one verse for every day of the year. Yes, it is human to be afraid. But every time we hear God telling us otherwise, His words become an assurance that we are never alone. Then we gain courage and strength for we realize that courage is not the absence of fear. Some of us may experience sinking into our abyss and reaching rock bottom and only to find out the God is also there, at rock bottom, waiting for us till we are ready to go back up. As He has promised, God never abandons us.
Second, this courage comes from hope – that at the end of every dark tunnel, there is a light waiting for us. We need to focus and not lose sight of this light so we don’t get lost and totally get discouraged. We need to remember that the end of the Holy Week is Easter Sunday, not Good Friday nor Black Saturday and that our Christian faith is founded on the Easter event. So whatever crisis or difficulties we may experience right now, we are assured that this too shall pass. At the end, all shall be well.
At the same time, as we face our loneliness and fears with courage, we are also purged and stripped off of what is not essential. We find ourselves back to what is most important to us. We rediscover our true purpose. We are in touch once more with our deep yearning for God.
The world right now is in crisis as the corona virus spreads all around. Yes, there is fear. There is loneliness. Yet, in our loneliness and fear, we are forced to go back to what truly matters and to what we truly cannot live without: our home, faith in God, and relationships. We realize that that we don’t really need more than those. Once again, we find ourselves having face-to-face unhurried conversations with our loved ones, praying together as family, and living only with the essentials in life.
This pandemic has made our celebration of Easter even more meaningful. We are awakened in order to bring back our zest for life, our moral compass, and our sense of purpose. God is calling us from our tombs and beckoning us to come back from our graves, back to life, in order to re-awaken our natural sense of delight, our it-feels-good-to-be-alive selves, and natural desire to connect with our selves, with others, and with God.
As we slowly open our eyes, we realize that the first thing we see is the smiling face of the risen Jesus.
Then we hear ourselves exclaiming: Oh God, it is so good to be alive.
KEEPING THE FAITH: Daily Mass for Difficult Times for this 23rd of April 2020, Thursday of the Second Week of Easter