Extraordinary Moment of Prayer in Times of Pandemic Presided Over by the Holy Father Francis, Atrium of Saint Peter's Basilica (March 27, 2020)
“At sunset” (Mk 4:35). Thus begins the Gospel that we have just heard. For some few weeks now it has seemed that everything has gone dark. A close darkness has covered our squares, streets and cities; it gradually took over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a desolate emptiness that paralyzed everything in its path: it throbbed in the air, one felt it in one’s gestures, our glances said it. We found ourselves scared and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel , we were surprised by an unexpected and furious storm. We realized that we were all in the same boat, fragile and disoriented, but, at the same time, important and needed, all called to row together, all in need of comforting each other. In this boat, were all of us. Like those disciples, who spoke with one voice and with anguish said: "we perish" (cf. v. 38), we also discovered that we cannot each continue on our own, but only together.
It is easy to identify with this story, the difficult thing is to understand the attitude of Jesus. While the disciples were naturally alarmed and desperate, he remained in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what did he do? Despite the hustle and bustle, he was sleeping peacefully, trusting in the Father; it is the only time in the gospel that Jesus appears sleeping. After they had woken him up and he had calmed the wind and the waters, he addressed the disciples in a reproachful tone: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith? (v.40).
Let's try to understand this. What is the lack of faith of the disciples that is opposed to the trust of Jesus? They had not stopped believing in Him; in fact, they invoked him. But let's see how they invoke him: “Master, don't you care if we perish?” (v.38). “Don't you care”: they thought that Jesus was not interested in them, that he was not paying attention to them. Between us, in our families, what hurts the most is when we hear someone say, “Don't you care about me?” It is a phrase that hurts and unleashes storms in the heart. It will also have shaken Jesus, because he cares about us more than anyone else does. Indeed, once summoned, he saves his distrusting disciples.
The storm unmasks our vulnerability and exposes those false and superfluous securities with which we had built our agendas, our projects, routines and priorities. It shows us how we had left dormant and abandoned what feeds, sustains and gives strength to our life and our community. The storm exposes all attempts to enclose and forget what nurtured the soul of our peoples; all those attempts to anesthetize with apparently “saving” routines, unable to appeal to our roots and evoke the memory of our elders, thus depriving us of the necessary immunity to face adversity.
With the storm, there fell the make-up of those stereotypes with which we disguised our egos, ever wanting to show off. This revealed, once again, that (blessed) common belonging from which we cannot and do not want to escape; that belonging as brothers
“Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”. Lord, this afternoon your Word challenges us, it is addressed to us all. In our world, which You love more than we do, we have advanced rapidly, feeling strong and capable of anything. Greedy for profit, we have allowed ourselves to be absorbed by material things and to be overwhelmed by haste. We have not paused before your calls, we have not woken up to wars and injustices in the world, we have not heard the cry of the poor and of our gravely ill planet. We have continued unperturbed, thinking of always staying healthy in a sick world. Now, while we are on rough seas, we beseech you, "Wake up, Lord."
“Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”. Lord, you address a call to us, a call to faith. It is not so much to believe that you exist, but to go towards you and trust in you. In this Lent your urgent call resounds: “Repent”, “return to me with all your heart” (Jl 2:12). You call us to make this time of trial a time of choice . It is not the moment of your judgment, but of our judgment: the time to choose between what really counts and what passes away, to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to restore the course of life towards you, Lord, and towards others. And we can look at so many fellow travelers who are exemplary, because, in the face of fear, they have reacted by giving their own lives. It is the operating force of the Spirit poured out and embodied in brave and generous dedication. It is the life of the Spirit capable of rescuing, valuing and showing how our lives are interwoven and sustained by ordinary people, ordinarily forgotten, who do not appear on the front pages of newspapers of the covers of magazines, nor on the big catwalks of the latest show but, without doubt, are writing right now the decisive events in our history: doctors, nurses, people who replenish our supermarket shelves, cleaners, caregivers, transporters, security personnel, volunteers, priests, nuns and many, many others who understand that no one is saved alone. In the face of suffering in which the true development of our people is measured, we discover and experience Jesus' priestly prayer: “May they all be one” ( Jn 17:21). How many people each day show patience and instill hope, taking care not to sow panic but co-responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, teachers show our children, with small and daily gestures, how to face and go through a crisis adapting routines, raising eyes and encouraging prayer. How many people pray, offer and intercede for the good of all. Prayer and silent service are our victorious weapons.
“Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The beginning of faith is knowing that we need salvation. We are not self-sufficient; alone we sink. We need our Lord like the ancient sailors needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boat of our life. Let's hand over to him our fears, so he can overcome them. Like the disciples, we will experience that, with Him on board, one is not shipwrecked. Because this is the strength of God: to turn everything that happens to us, even what is bad, into something good. He brings serenity in our storms, because with God life never dies.
The Lord challenges us and, in the midst of our storm, invites us to wake up and activate that solidarity and hope capable of giving solidity, support and meaning to these hours where everything seems to be shipwrecked. The Lord wakes up to awaken and enliven our Easter faith. We have an anchor: in his Cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: in his Cross we have been rescued. We have a hope: on his Cross we have been healed and embraced so that no one and nothing can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation where we are suffering from a lack of affection and encounters, experiencing the lack of so many things, let us once again hear the proclamation that saves us: he has risen and lives by our side. The Lord challenges us from his Cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look at those who cry out to us, to strengthen, recognize and encourage the grace that inhabits us. Let us not extinguish the smoking flame (cf. Is 42:3) which never makes us sick, and let us rekindle hope.
To embrace his Cross is to dare to embrace all the setbacks of the present time, abandoning for a moment our desire for omnipotence and possession in order to give space to the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of arousing. It is daring to foster spaces where everyone can feel invited and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. In his Cross we have been saved in order to shelter hope and to let it be what strengthens and sustains all the possible measures and paths that help us take care of ourselves and take care of others. Embrace the Lord in order to embrace hope. This is the strength of faith, which frees from fear and gives hope
“Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”. Dear brothers and sisters: From this place, which expresses the rock-solid faith of Peter, I would like this afternoon to entrust you all to the Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, health of his people, star of the stormy sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the world, may there descend upon you, like a consoling embrace, the blessing of God. Lord, bless the world, give health to bodies and comfort hearts. You ask us not to feel fear. But our faith is weak and we are afraid. But you, Lord, do not abandon us to the mercy of the storm. You repeat again: “Do not be afraid” ( Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “unload all our burden on you, because you take care of us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).
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Romana, n. 70, January-December 2020, p. 17-20.