We read during Lent many stories and verses proclaiming how God manifests his glory through healing the sick. These passages are meant to symbolize the sickness of sin, and how Christ cures us from that as well. In John's Gospel we read, "And his disciples asked him: Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:2-3)
Further, we read in the Psalms:
“To both man and beast you give protection.
O Lord, how precious is your love
My God, the sons of men
Find refuge in the shelter of your wings.” (Psalm 36)
In John 5 we read the Lord asking a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, “Do you want to be well?” And that's the point, isn't it? We have to believe he can heal us and desire it. We cannot be healed if we hide away.
“For thus says the Lord,
The creator of the heavens,
Who is God,
The designer and maker of the earth
Who established it,
Not creating it to be a waste,
But designing it to be lived in:
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I have not spoken from hiding
Nor from some dark place of the earth,
And I have not said to the descendants of Jacob,
‘Look for me in an empty waste.’ (Isaiah 45)
God engages with his creation in the real world. Most prayers he answers he answers through our interactions with his creations. I can't even count how many times God has answered my prayers through a random encounter with someone, through a subtle sign he put in the world as an answer just for me--while I was out and about. Without these real confirmations of faith from our God, our faith is bound to be caught up in our own fancies and sentiments. This is why the sacraments are central to the Faith. Unlike other religions, the Catholic Faith has the audacity to claim that God actually uses physical means and physical human interactions to administer his grace to his people.
Catholics are not people who run and hide when something we fear comes our way. Facing the fear and finding a way to put an end to it is the only way to truly defeat any danger. If we ask God for protection as we live amidst the world and go to church during this virus, we are not testing him like the devil tried to make Jesus do in the desert. We are courageously putting our faith in him like Daniel did in the lion's den.
We have a God who wants to heal us. He wants us to rise up from the ashes of this virus new and stronger than before. Our Lord is the God of the Resurrection, after all. Here are some other verses I read during evening prayer on various days during Lent. I'm sorry I don't remember what day they were for, nonetheless the recurring theme is clear.
“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel.” (Ezekiel 37:12) … “Thus you shall know that I am the Lord” (13)
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
“The Lord looks on those who revere him,
On those who hope in his love,
To rescue their souls from death,
To keep them alive in famine.”
“Should there be any attack, it shall not be of my making,
Whoever attacks you shall fall before you” (Isaiah 54:15).
When the plague of the firstborn passed through Egypt, it passed over the houses of those marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb. Similarly, I believe the coronavirus will pass over those who go to Mass--maybe not entirely but at least enough to prevent widespread death. Then we can have the prayers of the Church in sacred assembly to help fight the virus.
Some say this virus outbreak is a Lenten fast ordered from God, a fast from something good—the Mass—in order to make us appreciate it more. But this just does not seem to come from God. Some may say this is a way to make hearts grow fonder of the Eucharist and of Mass, as absence often does. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case. It’s far more likely that people will just stop going to Mass altogether. It’s not the ones who lacked reverence for the Eucharist who are suffering from this abstinence from it. In fact, those who lacked reverence for the Mass and Eucharist probably see the cancellation of Masses as a relief, a break from an obligation they never cared much for anyway. We’d be lucky to get any of them to go back again. Virtue is a habit. Break the habit of going to Mass, it’s often tough to start it up again.
I’m not saying God cannot bring any good out of this; he can bring good out of any evil. But to say this canceling of Masses is God’s will—and that he is causing us to abstain from the sacraments to emphasize the spiritual darkness inherent in Lent—just sounds like a clever way to condone an unholy decree. Some bishops may even condemn the canceling of Masses in one breath, and then in the next breath say this deprivation of the sacraments is God’s way of purifying the Church. I don’t think any of these observations are accurate. It’s much more likely that Church authorities have simply succumbed to the leverage and clout of secular authorities and the panic surrounding the virus propagated by mainstream media. This can only mean one thing: the Church is tragically lacking in supernatural faith.
In the Our Father we pray, “Lead us not into temptation”. Some versions say, “do not subject us to the final test.” God does in fact subject us to tests. COVID-19 is a test of our faithfulness. It has revealed to us how much we lack faith. We walk out on the water with Jesus when times are good, but when the waters get too tumultuous we stay away from him. God knew how we lacked faith, but it is time for us to know. Now is also the time to change that, and to reach out to him in faith. Lent is full of stories about Jesus healing the sick and even raising the dead. He is calling out to us, saying “Come to me in your time of weakness.” But instead we stay away. This reveals something very telling about our faith. When it is truly tested by God, our faith fails. Hopefully these trials have given us a rude awakening, hopefully now we can see how little faith we have in God.
Others say Mass is not essential. I hear many faithful even saying this. They say many areas of the world, even some that produced saints, didn't have regular access to the Mass and Eucharist. But it's clear to see how their circumstances were different. In their cases, more often than not, priests were either too far away, or Mass was forbidden because the Church was being persecuted. In our case, we have a situation most similar to the latter. Mass is forbidden because it's not considered an essential service. I don't understand why there isn't an outcry from the faithful due to this decision. If Mass is a non-essential service, then God is not essential because he is the one serving us in the Mass. He is the host.
Meanwhile, liquor stores remain open.
Leviticus 23:3 says "There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly." The bishops are a pillar of authority in the Church, but they are not the only authority. Scripture and Tradition are just as binding, and if the bishops go against Scripture or Tradition in their decrees they are abusing their authority. Speaking of Tradition, Canon Law states how the bishops do not have the authority to forbid access to Mass and the sacraments.
A conference of bishops can only issue general decrees in cases where universal law has prescribed it or a special mandate of the Apostolic See has established it either motu proprio or at the request of the conference itself.
The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.
Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation....
Since the diocesan bishop is mindful of his obligation to show an example of holiness in charity, humility, and simplicity of life, he is to strive to promote in every way the holiness of the Christian faithful according to the proper vocation of each. Since he is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, he is to endeavor constantly that the Christian faithful entrusted to his care grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments and that they understand and live the paschal mystery.
(source: Rome Canonist to Priests: Disobey Illegal Mass Bans)
This year, I guess the paschal mystery will be obscured as we are deprived of the main elements that bring it to life: the sacraments, especially the Mass. Publishing this on Holy Thursday, the day the Eucharist was instituted, seems all too appropriate. We need to be reminded of what makes our faith the one true faith. Without the sacraments, the Truth loses its physical presence in our lives. If we do not have the Church and the bishops celebrating the sacraments and dispensing the mysteries of God, the least I can do is say something about it to lament the tragedy on this day when Christ gave us the Sacrament.