FROM THE LETTERS OF FATHER PIO: HOPE IN TIME OF CRISIS COVID-19
Written by: Br. William Trauba OFMCap.
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Goodness, peace and health to each of you!
We are coming to the end of the Lenten season and it may be that we are looking forward to participating with Jesus more in his resurrection that in his passion and death. Perhaps we think that because he suffered and died for us, what remains is to rejoice in his resurrection and in my redemption. It’s convenient to think this way and to exempt oneself from participating in his passion, as if it had no meaning for us today. This desire to live the good life here on earth is so natural that if we wouldn’t have to suffer, we would never want to leave this world. But then came Covid-19.
This world-wide epidemic shows us that even with the advances of science and technology we are not immune from suffering and that our world is not our future paradise. Irate and fearful, many people demand that the powers of today liberate us from this pestilence. Some blame God for this tragedy. They see it as a chastisement from God for the sins of our age and plead that He free us from this scourge as soon as possible. Few persons know how to take advantage of this situation and still fewer know how to benefit spiritually from this great trial.
Perhaps it is the mystics like Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis of Assisi who can guide us in how to face this desperate situation in a positive way. Padre Pio counsels his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina Cerase, on how to give sense to suffering in his letter to her dated November 26, 1914:
Oh, how sublime and sweet is the divine Master’s delightful invitation: If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me! It was this invitation which caused St. Teresa to come out with that prayer to the divine Bridegroom: Either to suffer or to die. It was this same invitation which made St. Mary Magdalen Pazzi utter the words: Always to suffer and never to die. It was this invitation also which caused our Seraphic Father St. Francis, caught up in ecstasy, to exclaim: So much good awaits me that every suffering is a joy to me.
Let us not complain by any means of all the affliction and infirmities that it pleases Jesus to send us. Let us follow the divine Master up the steep slope of Calvary loaded with our cross, and when it pleases Him to place us on the cross by confining us to a bed of sickness, let us thank Him and consider ourselves lucky to be honored in this way, aware that to be on the cross with Jesus is infinitely more perfect that merely contemplating Jesus Himself on the cross.
What are we to make of these words of Padre Pio? All persons have the obligation to conserve their health, so Padre Pio is not suggesting that we put our health in danger. Rather, he says that when we are sick the way to benefit spiritually is to use that opportunity to unite oneself more closely to Jesus on the cross. The mystics, viewing the suffering of Jesus crucified as a manifestation of his complete love and self-giving for us, profoundly sympathized with his passionate loving. They captured a glance of the beauty of the redeemed person and this inspired in them a desire to do the same: to offer themselves completely to Jesus in gratitude for his offering to them and to dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of their neighbor that through love he or she might enjoy the same fulness of life.
In this context of love expressed through suffering we attempt some interpretation of the current Covid-19 epidemic. First, if a person doesn’t believe in God, the person will likely presume that the pandemic is due to certain identifiable factors such as overpopulation, lack of hygiene, global warming, etc., all scientifically explained and circumstances that can be verified and corrected with appropriate means. But if one believes in God the interpretation is more extensive. The God-believing person could agree with the scientists but add that all those circumstances are secondary causes through which God is working. Given the existence of a God who is infinite, immanent and personal and whose merciful love reaches out to us and calls us to Himself, there are other factors to consider.
Science presumes all things as the result of causes before the event in question whereas the Christian believer also affirms that things happen for a purpose, or according to the Providence of God. Therefore, when a person asks, why does God allow such suffering, he usually begins by seeking an explanation in antecedent causes. However, this viewpoint questions God’s love for us, his power over evil and his wisdom. God is not deficient in any of these aspects and suggests that the question is misconceived. The answer to the ‘why’ must refer to the future result of this pandemic. The answer to the question of why God permits this pandemic then includes my response, my testimony. This testimony is what God wants from me. This testimony is inevitable and reveals who I am because it is proclaimed in every decision that I make.
It seems to me that this pandemic is not a chastisement but rather a correction for us proceeding from the mercy of God. Chastisement looks to punish the injustice of breaking a law whereas correction hopes to benefit the person corrected. Consider the lifestyle of many people who have had all the luxuries of modern society before this pandemic. Many became self-centered and publicly proclaimed seekers of pleasure justifying their posture as a right to seek happiness (in pleasure). With the appearance of Covid-19 these pleasures are no longer so easily accessible. One is intent on fighting for one’s survival. Moreover, there is not the luxury of being egocentric. If one is ill, he needs the help of another and if the other person is sick and extends his hand asking for my help I must respond. To be indifferent in that situation would create a horrible angst in my soul and would separate me from where the force of life is looking to maintain itself.
Let us take appropriate precautions to safeguard our health and to work together for a rapid end to this pandemic. This is being responsible and charitable toward others. Let us learn to discard the unhealthy and disordered values and practices of our society and assume our responsibility for our testimony in responding to the exigencies of this pandemic with charity and compassion. Finally, let us remain faithful to our Father’s mercy toward us in this trial and unite ourselves to Jesus as instruments of his compassionate love for every person; united to Him in whom there is no weakness and a sure hope to be rescued from all suffering.
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin