Highlights and insights from our Mindful Manila Special Holy Week Live Chat on “Faith Amid Crisis”, featuring Fr. Ted Gonzales, SJ and Pastor Bebo Bharwani.
To mark the Holy Week–a special celebration for Christians and Catholics from all over the world–and mindful of the extraordinary challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended lockdown of Metro Manila and the Philippine island of Luzon, Mindful Manila hosted a special live chat on “faith amid crisis..”
It features two Church leaders who are very close to our hearts–Fr. Ted Gonzales, SJ, a Catholic priest; and Pastor Bebo Bharwani, a Christian pastor.
Here, we share highlights and insights from the one-hour chat, and hope that these will serve as jump-off points for your Holy Week reflection.
Suffering is a part of the human experience. But our journeys through suffering always bring us back to what–and who–is important.
Throughout our history, humankind has been plagued with global catastrophes–plagues, pandemics, World Wars–that have brought us to our knees and tested the human spirit. Suffering has always been a part of the human experience. But just like the Israelites who had traveled for 40 years to escape from Egypt, we are all in the middle of a long journey. That middle part of the journey is murky–we can’t see the end just yet; we are in a very uncomfortable position that makes us question a lot of things; we may even be tempted to worship material things and comforts–but it is at that point where we also begin to distill what–and who–is truly important and essential.
This quarantine period is also similar to when Noah and his family were “quarantined” in the Ark as the storm raged on for 40 days and 40 nights. There was a long period of waiting for the storm to pass, but in the end, it was as if the world had been reset and rebooted. There was a cleansing and a purification that took place–which is perhaps similar to what our environment is experiencing right now.
We will never be able to answer, “Why?”, but what we do know is that: God is always with us.
At times like this, it is tempting–or even natural–to ask, “Why God? Why me? Why them?” We often assume that good people deserve only good things, and that bad people deserve bad things. But that is a dangerous assumption to make, and that is farthest from the truth. Even Jesus and his disciples suffered greatly. Why suffering exists is within the realm of God’s mystery, and we will not be able to answer it fully.
However, what we do know is that God is broken-hearted when we suffer, and he is present with us amid the suffering. We saw how Job, despite having suffered and lost tremendously in his life, was cognizant of and comforted by the presence of God. (Of course, Job needed to be reminded of who made the world and how expansive God’s presence is.) And in the Gospels, the apostles were terrified of the storm as Jesus lay sleeping on the boat, but He awoke to calm the storm and asked the apostles, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”.
Instead of focusing on asking, “Why?”, we are being reminded and challenged to believe that God is here with us, and He will still the storms of our lives. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s words also remind us that, “In the dark night, that is when we are invited to trust.
Grace lies in recognizing God in all things, in being the face of God for others.
Someone from the audience asked: “Amidst this crisis, what is the church doing to ensure that we are able to continue to practice our faith and we don’t forget that God is still there watching over us?”
The answer: WE are the Church. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing–to directly respond to the crisis, to care for others, to comfort those who are sick, to feed and shelter the hungry and homeless, to care for our families, to grieve with those who have lost a loved one–that is what the church is doing. The Church is out there and in here, in all of us. And whenever we find ourselves asking where the Church is–where God is–amid all this, all we need to do is look at our own lives and our own responses to this crisis, and there we will find more opportunities to be God’s instruments of love, light, and life for others.
* * *
This Lenten season has been truly extraordinary. Beyond the traditional practices of prayer, abstinence, fasting, reflection, and penance, the COVID-19 crisis has put us all in a situation of true sacrifice. We are in the worst crisis that the world has seen in recent years, but this is also an opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves and reconnect with and strengthen our faith.
These three points above are merely (ultra-condensed) summaries of the lively and engaging chat we had, and they are just jump-off points for further reflection. We invite you to watch the replay at your own pace, jot down some notes, do your own further reading, and use this Holy Week break to pause, reflect, clarify, and reboot. We’ve got a marathon ahead of us, but what we do know is that God and His Church are here with us.
To watch the full replay on Facebook, click on the image below.