How the world has changed in just a few weeks. It seems hard to remember life before the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus, and right now it is hard to imagine that life might one day return to normal.
As I write, world health officials have declared the virus to be a “pandemic,” and there are more than 6,500 deaths already, across many nations. A national emergency has been declared by the president, and the governor of California and the mayor of Los Angeles have each announced new restrictions on public gatherings and other measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
In the midst of this grave and extraordinary moment, I regret to say that we have been forced to temporarily suspend public celebration of the Mass in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, at least for the next two weeks, through the weekend of March 28-29. We have also closed our Catholic schools at least until March 31, and canceled most gatherings in the archdiocese.
What we do in the Church, we do out of love for God and love for our brothers and sisters. We have taken this extraordinary step of suspending Masses out of love for those in our families and communities who are most vulnerable to this deadly virus.
It was fitting that the Gospel this past weekend was the beautiful story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus’ words struck me: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.”
It seems to me that in this moment, in this time when so many are afraid and uncertain, our Father is calling us to intensify our worship, our discipleship. He is calling us to seek him with all our hearts, to serve him with our whole lives. He is calling us to trust in his Providence, in his plan for our lives and our world.
With the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus, we see how the forces of “globalization” have made us one family, and that what afflicts our brothers and sisters in one country can no longer be isolated. We are confronted, not only with the reality of our common humanity, but also with our responsibility for one another. As St. Paul said, if one of us is suffering, we all suffer together.
These are troubling times. People are getting sick, people are dying. Many families are struggling with the dislocations caused by the shutting down of businesses and schools. People are feeling the anguish of being separated and far away from loved ones in a time of need. Some have relatives dying in other parts of the world, and they cannot reach them.
Now is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices for the love of God and the love of our neighbor. Let us draw closer to one another in our love for him. We are called to bear one another’s burdens and we need to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, as one family. We need to reflect on the fragility of our lives, and rediscover what truly matters.
We are a people of faith, not of fear.
“Be not afraid!” is what the angel told Mary at the Annunciation. Jesus spoke these same words to his disciples after the resurrection. And in this time of trial and testing, I think he is speaking these words to his disciples again.
Jesus has passed through the valley of the shadow of death, so there is no evil that we should be afraid of. He has promised to be with us until the close of the age. And there is no promise that Jesus makes that he will not keep.
St. John writes that “perfect love casts out fear.” Of course, we know that our love is far from perfect. But we also know that God does not abandon us. Throughout the history of the Church, Jesus continues to walk with us: through persecutions, plagues, and pestilence, and now a pandemic.
Jesus goes with us even now and we know that in all things he works for good for those who love him. And we have his promise: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
Pray for me this week, and I will pray for you. And let us pray for all those afflicted by this virus and all those working to care for them.
And I invite you to join me in seeking the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe for our nation and our world.
You can find a special prayer for this time of the coronavirus on our website: archla.org/prayer.