In the last two years, COVID-19 has been the central concern in our lives. Certainly, none of us has been free from the suffering of ourselves or a loved one who has battled the effects of this disease. Some of us have even experienced the heartbreak of burying a beloved family member or friend in the last two years. These are tough times, full of all types of crosses, from loss of life to increased precautions to a general increase in suffering, but we are Catholic Christians. The cross is our way of being; let’s not lose the opportunity that is presenting itself to us and our families.
The Crosses We Bear
As a father of five, there is nothing I could say to one of my children to make the heartache go away at the loss of a family member. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t help my kids to see the grace that accompanies the sorrows these last two years have brought us. Here are a select few; surely your own reflection and experience would add a great many more to this list.
Life is Precious
Not only does parting with a loved one help us to reflect on their life, but it helps us reflect on all our relationships. Now that our loved one is gone, we cannot tell them how much we love them, at least not like before, but we can certainly make it a point to tell our other loved ones how special they are to us. Do we spend our time fretting over details or do we forgive the little things in order to more fully appreciate the big things? Maybe it is always a chore to help my aunt get up the stairs with her walker, or have to limit my meals because of her many dietary restrictions, but let’s not linger on her limitations but focus on what she still can contribute: her wisdom, her memories, her experience and her love. Valuing time is making the most of the moments we have with our loved ones and not getting bent out of shape over the little things but focusing on the important things, focusing on the unique, unrepeatable human being in front of us.
We Must Sanitize Our Hearts
There is so much focus on external sanitizing, but do we notice how much more we need to sanitize our hearts? The whole point of sanitizing our hands is to prevent the spread of diseases that we might pick up by touching contaminated surfaces. Much more significant are the infections of the heart and soul, sicknesses we pick up from our lack of forgiveness, our greed or our pride. When we allow these things to fester in our souls, they most definitely affect those around us. A heart full of vengeance, a heart full of resentment, a heart full of envy or arrogance — these things also need to be sanitized. Our beautiful faith gives us the opportunity to do this by accessing the healing power of the Cross through the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, you can find a confession near you at this link: https://www.archmil.org/Parishes/Find-a-Confession.htm. After you find a confession time that is convenient for you, I suggest you call the parish just to double-check the information.
There is Light Even in the Darkest Night
It is important to help our kids to see that there is goodness even when things seem so dark. At the height of the closures and quarantine, many people were laid off or entire businesses closed. The need for basic supplies like food and water reached critical levels for some families. In this despair and suffering, I saw families who came together at our parish to distribute bags of groceries and food boxes to needy families. I heard of cafeteria staff who had no students in their schools so they cooked hot meals to package and distribute to families in a drive-thru operation. When someone passed away and their family from out of the country could not travel here for the funeral, the parish community came together to make the final arrangements, host the vigil, provide refreshments and organize the readings and final burial. These are opportunities to show our children how people are living the scriptures. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Together with our children, we can glorify God in heaven whose Holy Spirit filled these people and inspired them to offer their time and their effort to help those who were most affected.
The crosses we bear are not just suffering as some would label them. When we bear our crosses with faith, we start to find the redemptive value, we start to see the Holy Spirit acting and active in others and even in ourselves. These cross-laden times do not have to push us away from God and our faith but can serve quite the opposite purpose and unite us with Jesus, who is the suffering servant, who came to serve and not be served. Let us look to him to strengthen us in our via dolorosa. Let us cling to him as he completes the redemptive work for all of us, and let us contribute what little we have to that great and ongoing work which illumines all hearts and which shines forth in the deepest dark, the light that broke out into the world at the defeat of death that first Easter Sunday morning in which Jesus, our model and our leader, showed us that even death does not have the last word. As St. Paul told us, “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)