By Tony Magliano
On a rainy Rome evening, two Lents ago, a solitary elderly man in white, climbed the numerous steps leading to the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Upon reaching the top, he turned to face an empty St. Peter’s Square to preside over a prayer service asking for God’s guidance, strength, and protection in the face of the seemingly invincible coronavirus which was marching throughout the world sowing fear and striking death along its path.
With personal protective equipment in extremely short supply, and a vaccine – usually taking years to develop – nowhere in sight, the faith-filled Pope Francis shared his wise, heartfelt, and encouraging words with millions of people in virtual attendance, giving us the inspiring, comforting message that in the midst of this furious squall, our Lord Jesus is here with us to quiet the wind and calm the dashing waves, as he did for his first disciples who were afraid that the storm would sink their boat and thus perish (Mk 4:35-41).
And after quieting the storm the Lord asked them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:35-41).
Quoting our Lord, Pope Francis raised the same piercing questions to us, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” He attempted to awaken us from our spiritual sleep.
For powerful effect, Francis posed Jesus’ questions again, “Why are you afraid? Have you no Faith?”
He said the Lord is asking us if we are truly trusting him? And just as true this Lent as it was in the Lent of 2020, Francis reminds us of the Lord’s urgent call to conversion, the Lord’s loving invitation: “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12).
Again, Francis quoted Jesus, “Why are you afraid”? Have you no faith?” He said that “Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient: by ourselves we flounder; we need the Lord.”
The Holy Father went on to say that Jesus is calling us to seize the moment and choose what matters, over what passes away. “It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
Now, with the world in such deep trouble, with so many brothers and sisters experiencing such misery, we need to take Lenten’s clarion call to heart. We need “to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
In midst of the COVID pandemic, the death toll is still raging among many poor nations – three times higher than in rich countries. According to Oxfam, Pfizer and Moderna have delivered less than one percent of their total vaccine supplies to poor countries. This is an outrageous injustice.
The death-dealing, heartbreaking suffering caused by President Putin’s brutal war against the Ukrainian people reveals yet another deadly pandemic: war!
The disease of dozens of armed conflicts such as in Ukraine, Tigray, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen continue to kill countless innocent children, women, and men.
And let’s not dare forget the hunger/malnutrition pandemic occurring in many nations – most especially in Afghanistan – where United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently told the U.N. Security Council that “Daily life has become a frozen hell for the people of Afghanistan” (please watch: https://to.pbs.org/3nS3CWC).
And it is to our peril, and that of future generations, to continue largely ignoring the global pandemic of climate change.
And the pandemic list goes on and on.
To help give hope in the midst of all the pandemics, please prayerfully watch Pope Francis’ very special Lenten prayer service linked here.
And in life’s storms let us hold fast to the Holy Father’s encouraging words that “We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed.” And “Let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side!”