Solicitude

 

Ancient Israel believed that personal wealth and prosperity were directly proportional to one's favor with God. However, the underlining message promulgated from the First Testament's Book of Job's provided ample evidence that socially advantaged individuals do not escape hardship. Plagues from antiquity seem distant from Western secularism's average experience of daily life. Disease on a pandemic scale has normatively been the problem of developing nations. COVID-19 strikes a hard blow at Judeo/Christian values  that associate economic prosperity with divine blessings. Prosperity preaching imagines the mystery of human suffering in ways that overlook the ministry and death of Jesus. The approach disconnects itself from God, who sends His Son into the world to model extreme suffering, necessary to bring about ultimate healing. Job illustrated this point by beginning as a powerful chieftain with seven sons, three daughters, and great material wealth. God held much confidence in Job's faithfulness, although he allowed Satan to invigilate some profound testing. Tribulation entered Job's life, reducing him into poverty and dispersing his family. In response to Satan's taunting, Job answered,

         

          Naked, I came forth from my mother's womb and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave, and Lord            has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.[1]  

The Creator and Satan crossed paths a second time in Job's story, and although God initiated the dialog, the Devil dismisses Job's virtue. Satan attributed Job's passing grade, with avoiding blasphemy, to God's caveat that he not physically touch the man.  Painful fluid-filled growths developed under Job's skin caused by a bacterial inflammation. Boils form as a cluster of bumps emerging on the face, back, thighs, and buttocks, leaving patients in severe pain until the sores rupture and drain.[2] Only after a life of suffering did Job return to prosperity fully restored.

Faithfulness endures repeated testing in the apparent cruelty inflicted during these pandemic times. How will sacramentally inscribed persons face such prolonged physical, psychological, and spiritual agony? In the suffering that Job underwent, spiritualists recognized a chieftain, who modernity might emulate, as a model of forbearance. However, comprehending the mysteries of suffering brings little solace until individuals pause to reflect and socially contrast their respective ordeals. Despite the mental, spiritual, and physical discomfort that Job encountered, he was never distant from God's companionship, or abandoned. People of faith in times of trial "double down" on spiritual praxis. Job experienced little reason to be enamored with God's testing, but always found ways to believe with gratitude. The Lord enrolled Job into the College of Saints, who teach the world by example, a beauty discovered in the mystery of suffering.  

      

COVID-19 exposes a severe vulnerability with individuals and societies whose faith rests solely in secular institutions. In times past, overcrowded Europe spilled across borders in vast numbers carrying new diseases while inaugurating another spread. French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and British vessels set sail worldwide, searching for adventure and economic opportunities. Trade with the exotic peoples of the east became especially coveted. The political, cultural, and social expansion  between the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries only undergoes deceleration with the rise of nationalist movements. During these crisis times, sacramental praxis again recognizes an opportunity to tag alongside the secular phenomena.  Indigenous Elder Black Elk (1932) beautifully explains the opportunity in this way:

         

          Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole            hoop of the world. Besides, while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell, and I understood more than I              saw; for I saw in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the Spirit, and the shape of all shapes as                they must live together like one being. Moreover, I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of              many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one                        mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. Moreover, I saw that it                was holy.[3]

The COVID-19, pandemic compels religious organizations to reexamine sacramental approaches in light of the diverse and evolving Canadian demographic. Services and charity that religious communities notably provide includes language instruction, additions counseling , citizenship preparation, and refugee orientation. Secular social programs bring evidence of national concern, but care demands more from the baptized. Nouwen (1973), Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, defined care in this way, "To care means first to empty our cup and to allow the other to come close to us. It means to take away the many barriers which prevent us from entering into communion with the other." Christian caritas describes a striving to be present and responsive to the other,' even when sacrifice could reverse fortunes.

          Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember that pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss              of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you."  Saint Mother Teresa of                      Calcutta[4]

          If we endure all things patiently and with gladness, thinking on the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, and                bearing all for the love of Him herein is perfect joy." St Francis of Assisi[5]

          It's true, I suffer a great deal--but do I suffer well? That is the question." Therese de Lisieux [6] St. Therese            of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] From the Book of Job, 1:21.

[2] From the Mayo Clinic Boils and Carbuncles.

[3] From Black Elk, (1863 – 1950) Sacred Pipes,  Edited by J. Brown(1953).

[4] From St Mother Theresa. Vaticansite.com.

[5] From St Francis of Assisi. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis vol 3, p. 581

[6] From St Theresa of Lisieux, On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Catholic Digest (2018).

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