As we continue with another week of hardship from the effects of this deadly virus, we are immediately struck by the physical and economical trials. They are very real and alarming. But these are not the only challenges, there are other, less devasting struggles.
And yet, with all the added stress, we find these lesser struggles quite tiresome, precisely because they demonstrate our inability to live our lives as we desire and are normally able to. For example, I happened to see a young couple who are parishioners when I was out for a walk the other day. And I noticed that the bottom half of the wife’s hair was blond and the other half brunette. Apparently, she wasn’t a natural blond and dyes her hair. During this time of lockdown, I’m learning that many women do this. As we are unable to go to the barber or hair salon, we are resorting to letting our hair return to its natural color, as well as let it continue to grow or allowing our spouse to cut our hair. That’s led to haircuts of varying success and many people quite willing to put it off completely until they can see a professional. The vows of marriage are vague on trusting your husband with scissors, after all.
Another annoying trial in all of this has been some weight gain. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook the other day, “Today marks four weeks of quarantine without sugar. Running 3 miles a day, no meat or flour. No caffeine! The change has been fantastic! I feel great! Zero alcohol! A healthy diet, gluten free, caffeine-free, and a good workout every day!!!!!!!” And then under that he wrote, “I don’t know whose status this is, but I was really proud of them. So, I decided to copy and paste.”
We know that suffering is a part of life and central to our Faith, as well. As St. Peter reminds us in our second reading, “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Sufferings, then, aren’t simply to be borne through gritted teeth; they are an opportunity to grow in love and to praise God, an opportunity we don’t want to miss as we continue to process these difficult days.
Yes, these days have led to a host of changes to our everyday lives and to our countenance. We may be getting overweight and in need of a haircut, but the emergence of these disruptions to our everyday life, things we usually fret over and spend so much time and money trying to control, helps us realize that we are not really in control. In fact, we never were. And the acceptance of the current state of our physical appearance helps us focus on what really matters: Christ, our light in the darkness. He doesn’t care about our haircut, St. Onuphrius was dressed only in his abundant hair and a loin cloth of leaves, and plenty of chubby people have made it to heaven, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. John XXIII. It’s not that we are not called to take care of our bodies, we are, but what Jesus asks from us most of all is to accept His love and to share it. He asks us to trust in Him.
That call to trust is brought into sharp focus today, Divine Mercy Sunday. On the one hand, the timing of this feast is odd. On the first Sunday after Easter, a time when we are still in the early throes of jollification, we are suddenly called to pray, “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” We’re tempted to say, “We’ve been sorrowful for a while, now let’s celebrate.” But this day isn’t separate from Christ’s glorious Resurrection. The Paschal Mystery is Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection and we cannot have the Resurrection without his Passion first. It’s why we have crucifixes up in our churches and not empty crosses; we look at the totality of Jesus’ love for us, and that’s both suffering and rising from the dead. We celebrate this great love today as the memorial acclamation reminds us, “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.” Divine Mercy, then, is fitting during Easter, and particularly so, for it recalls the depths of God’s love and how his forgiveness is offered freely and generously even to this day. And so, while the world tells us that we are restricted when we follow Jesus, we know that to say yes to His love, a love which has given everything for us and is in control of this chaotic world, is not a burden, but a joy.
At the beginning of Lent at my parish we had a Diving Mercy play, put on by St. Luke’s Productions, which was very well acted and quite moving. One of the things that stood out the most to me was a conversation between St. Faustina and Our Lord. She asked Jesus one day for a big favor. She asked if He would save everyone who was going to die that day, regardless of whether or not they had lived a good life. Jesus told her this was a very great thing to ask. She replied that she knew that, but that she also knew that He loved giving big gifts more than small ones. Our Lord replied that he would do as she asked, for she loved Him dearly, and He did indeed enjoy giving great things more than small ones.
This pandemic is throwing into sharp relief our powerlessness. That’s why we cry out today, Jesus I trust in You. Because He is not without power, rather He is Goodness itself and can draw good even out of this present evil. So, let us bring our little annoyances to Jesus and let us bring the big stuff, too. He knows the struggles and pains of this world; He knows what it is to suffer. But now, with Christ’s resurrection, suffering has a redemptive value. Now, the sufferings we endure, large or small, can be united to Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, the act that saved the world. And so, whether we are worrying about our appearance, our health, or our livelihood, we can enter into the struggle, knowing that Christ is with us, will help us walk this path, and takes pleasure in bestowing great gifts upon us. Because there can be good that comes out of these days and what a shame if, when this is all over, we emerged from our homes exactly the same as we had been.
And so let us continue to keep each other in prayer and let us do so by praying with words that are familiar to many of us, since they are from the 11th Station of a traditional Stations of the Cross: “Lord and Savior, You have told us that we too must accept crucifixion if we are to accept resurrection with You. Help us to rejoice in the sufferings that come with the fulfillment of our daily duties, seeing in them the royal road of the cross to the resurrection.”
(Father John Solomon is administrator at St. Mary Star of the Sea/Holy Savior parish in Ocean City, Md.)