Today, the Detroit Jesuits of the Midwest Province live-streamed Mass from the chapel at Lansing-Reilly on the McNichols Campus for the faithful who are not allowed in churches during the coronavirus crisis. It was part of the community’s outreach “Pray. Reflect. Connect.” designed to provide comfort and guidance during this time of isolation and, for many, fear. This first sermon was delivered by Fr. Peter Etzel, S.J,. associate pastor, Gesu Catholic Church Detroit. To see the schedule of live-streamed and other aspects of “Pray. Reflect. Connect.” please visit the Facebook page.
This past week I spoke with one of our parishioners. Typical conversation, quite delightful, lots of give and take. All of a sudden, however, there was silence on the other end. I heard a voice. And I could sense and I could feel emotion that was being expressed in tears. The person then went on to say, last Sunday, not being able to go to church, not being able to be with community, was hard. And then the tears started coming powerfully. I suspect that this individual represents us all. Not only our desire to be at the Eucharist, at the Mass, or to be in communion with other people; or maybe this whole COVID-19, which has struck our country, is bringing us either to tears or to the edge of tears. For many different reasons. But I suspect we have all experienced some deep emotions this past week. And so it’s good to come and to gather around the table. And to all of us, may the grace, the peace, the tenderness, and the compassion of Jesus be with you all.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the Latin word for rejoice. The color of the day is rose. Traditionally, this is a litrugal moment of celebration. A respite from the austere movement of Lent. We can rejoice because we already know the end of the story. That is the tomb and Easter Sunday. With all that is taking place in the world due to the Coronavirus, one hardly feels joyful. We don’t know the end or outcome of this story. We are sad, afraid, confused. Our hearts ache for those who suffer and are in the throws of this illness. We are awe struck by the courage and selflessness of those who serve: the doctors, the nurses, the staff in hospitals; the police, the paramedics, the first responders on the streets, and many others. We have many feelings of either desperation or we feel alone, or we feel frightened. And it is in times such as these that one person suggested this image: that humanity raises it’s arm to God, like small children, reaching out to their parent. Hold us close, keep us safe, and be with us. As believers, however, we remember throughout salvation history, God has reached out to God’s people first. And God continues to beckon us before we reach out to God. Which leads us to the joy of being a follower of The Christ, who was the great outreach of God in salvation history.
Joy, the joy that we refer to on this Sunday, can be described as the sober reality that what God has done through life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus can never be undone or overcome. Sin, darkness, and death are not the final answers. Rather, grace, light, and life in the Lord. We just heard the story of the man born blind. In John’s highly symbolic gospel, blindness means spiritually bllind. Jesus heals the man of his blindness. He opened the eyes of the man to a new reality. And his eyes saw life in a new way. With lots of confusion and questions and back and forth, it really came down to this: that with new vision, the man encountered pure grace — the life, the light, and the love of God in Jesus Christ. And so maybe we want to ask for the grace to have open eyes. Our challenges as people of the gospel during these uncertain times are many, but it could be this: With open eyes and hearts to discover the hidden but fresh graces God desires to give. What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel in my own experience? Both outside myself, but maybe more important, inside; the movements in our hearts where God speaks most prominently. Or, we might put it this way: What is God wanting to teach me? How is God trying to love me? And, what is it I am supposed to learn so that fruit may be born to the power of God in the world.
Father Greg Boyole of Homeboys Industries, who works with gang related men and women in the L.A. area, said, and I paraphrase: It is a characteristic of a tunnel that one passes through a long stage of uncertainty and darkness before finally reaching the light, but the light will come. We are in the tunnel, possibly only at it’s entrance. And yet, this morning on a walk through campus, I heard the birds singing, I saw the daffodils blooming, and I remembered that today we wear rose, which points to good things to come.
May we trust in the grace, the peace, the tenderness, and the compassion of Jesus Christ, who is the life, the light, and the love of God present in our midst.