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  • Writer's pictureFr. Jordi Rivero

The Cross, The Eucharist and COVID-19

The pandemic is an opportunity to be purified and grow in holiness, but only if we are living it as ONE with Jesus in the Cross and the Eucharist

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The Messiah was expected to free humanity from the two things that are most feared: suffering and death. Instead, Jesus chose to suffer and die on the Cross. Why?

What is the cross

The cross is a Roman instrument used to dominate by fear. Behind this tactic is Satan. He uses it to make us afraid of responding to God. Satan came at Jesus with the Cross to keep Him from doing the Father’s will. But Jesus overcame fear with love for His Father’s will and embraced suffering. His act of love defeated Satan. The cross became a sign of His victory and a reminder that we must be one with Him to enter the same battle.

Jesus made it clear: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Yes, Christians, like Jesus, seek to heal and alleviate suffering, but also, like Jesus, we embrace any suffering that is in the path of obedience to God. In other words, we do not allow suffering to stop us from following God’s will. If we are ONE with Jesus, His love casts out fear of suffering and death. We may still have fear, but it no longer controls us.

To embrace the cross is the decisive test of discipleship.

The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18).

COVID-19 is a cross

It has killed many people and caused untold suffering. It has brought division and ruin.

How do we know how to live the cross of COVID-19?

Jesus asked his disciples at Gethsemane to accompany Him. Our Gethsemane is Jesus in His Eucharistic presence. This is our priority.

Jesus knew that Satan would come after us. He gave Himself as Eucharist so that we could stand strong at the Cross and conquer as ONE with Him. He guides us, removes our fears, and gives us courage, no matter what evil we may face, what cross we must embrace.

Without the Eucharist, our soul languishes, just as our body does without food. The Church teaches us that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.[1]” It is, therefore, essential to go deep in prayer and listen to the Spirit and understand what we are facing.

St. John Paul II said:

Through prayer, especially to Jesus at Communion, you will understand so many things about the world and its relationship to him, and you will be in a position to read accurately what are referred to as the “signs of the times.”

The first thing Satan wants is to deny us is the Eucharist.

The disciples fell asleep; they did not stay in prayer united with Him. Then, overcome with fear, they abandoned Jesus. Fear has an effect on our cognitive process and in our spirit. If it dominates us, it makes us weak and incapable of discernment. As a result, we only want to avoid the cross at any price.

The COVID crisis has revealed how easily we too fall into fear and abandon Him. Churches remained closed for months. This is a great tragedy.

The example of the saints

The argument for closing the Churches has been to protect from contagion. We are told that decisions are made “in an abundance of prudence.” Such prudence is not a virtue; it is the logic of the world, played out by government and the media. Let us attend to the wisdom of God found in the saints:

In every century and region of the world, since the catacombs, the saints risked their lives to receive the Eucharist. Many were martyred. They are too numerous to count.[2] [3] [4]

Some were teenagers, like Blessed Joan Roig of Barcelona[5]. In 1936, the communists had closed the churches, so Joan Roig went to the homes in secret to distribute Holy Communion. During one of these visits, he told a family that he knew that red militiamen were trying to kill him. “I fear nothing; I take the Master with me,” he said. When those seeking his life knocked on his door, Joan consumed the hosts he had to protect them from desecration. He was martyred.

Others were married men, like Blessed Peter to Rot, who distributed the Eucharist in the underground Church of Papua New Guinea until arrested and martyred in 1945.

Others were women. Archbishop Fulton Sheen told a story of the martyr who inspired his Eucharistic devotion. During the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th century, soldiers broke into a Catholic Church, arrested the priest, and destroyed the tabernacle, scattering the 32 hosts it had contained. That night, one of the parishioners – a young Chinese girl – sneaked into the Church and spent an hour in Adoration before the scattered hosts before consuming one of them. She did this every night for 32 nights, and it was on the final night, after all the hosts had been safely consumed, that she was caught and killed by one of the guards.

This is normal Christianity; this is the love of the saints for the Eucharist, and we are all called to be saints. The Lord has called us in Love Crucified to be his victims of love. He is now giving us the opportunity to live it; he has put us to the test with COVID-19. How are we doing so far?

“Be safe”

During this pandemic, the saying “be safe” has become a mantra. But the first concern of Christians is for the safety of our soul.

Father Henry Timothy Vakoc died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan as he was returning from celebrating Mass for soldiers in the field. He didn’t need to go to Afghanistan, and once there, he did not have to go to the front lines. They had warned him of the danger but said: “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will, no matter what” Martyrs are truly safe because they chose to lay down their lives for love.

Our focus should be on God’s will, which often means the Cross. We try to keep everybody and ourselves safe. But there are risks that we need to be willing to take.

There were also many saints who lived through plagues of much higher mortality than COVID-19. How did they respond? St Rocco, St Bernardino of Siena, who, at the age of 17, took charge of the hospital in Siena during the plague.

St. Charles Borromeo, bishop of Milan [6], [7]

The plague of the 1570s killed 30% of the population. Compare to COVID-19, which has a 99.74 survival rate [8]. Authorities, out of fear of contagion, had forbidden public processions and religious ceremonies, but they fled the city. St. Charles stayed. He did not neglect using remedies available, but said that the only cure was to pray and do penance more piously than before. Masses were not canceled, but were moved outdoors. He ordered more Masses said than before. He organized religious processions.

St. Charles counseled his clergy:

Take the plague of the soul in consideration more than the contagion of the body, which, for many reasons, is less pernicious.

He offered himself as an expiatory victim for the sins of his people. He went out every day to visit the sick and dying. He said to the people:

I will be going out among you every day, on account of the sick.”

To the priests who were afraid to minister, he said,

We have only one life, and we should spend it for Jesus Christ and souls, not as we wish.

In Milan, deaths were less than in other cities. St. Charles commented:

Not by our prudence, which was caught asleep. Not by science of the doctors who could not discover the sources of the contagion, much less a cure. Not by the care of those in authority who abandoned the city. No, my dear children, but only by the mercy of God.

Processions in times of plague are an old tradition. For example, in 590 AD, Rome suffered a terrible plague, and Pope Saint Gregory the Great kept celebrating the Mass. He was aware of the danger since his predecessor had died during the plague. During a procession on the streets, angels appeared singing “Regina Cœli” to the Blessed Mother, who was enthroned above them. St. Michael was seen sheathing his sword. At that moment, the plague ceased. It was April 25, and since that day, there is a yearly procession.

Now it’s our turn to trust and accompany our Eucharistic Lord at any cost. COVID will then become a passage to a new fulfilled life as never before.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324.


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