[REFLECTIONS] Stories and dreams: Easter in the time of COVID-19
It’s a first in world history: an online Holy Week for millions of people, even in Vatican City, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rappler presents a series of reflections to help you, our reader, enter the spirit of Holy Week even in quarantine.
Editor's Note: Father Jett Villarin, SJ, delivered this homily in the live online Easter Vigil Mass by Radyo Katipunan on Saturday evening, April 11. Rappler is publishing a copy of his homily as provided by Father Emmanuel Alfonso, SJ, executive director of Jesuit Communications.
A toxic wind has been blowing into our world for several months now. This poison has kept us shuttered in our homes and hospitals. Death is in the air. We are afraid. We are anxious about the uncertainty of it all. We can only keep vigil and wait for this messenger of death to pass us over. As it was with the ancient Israelites in Egypt awaiting their deliverance, as it was with the disciples after Calvary, whose doors and hearts were bolted out of fear, so it is with us now.
Tonight then let us keep vigil. We shall ask for the grace of patience in this time of waiting. We will gather around the fire of this Easter candle to do two things: tell stories and share dreams with each other. Stories from the past and present. Dreams for the future. We’ve been telling stories and sharing dreams for centuries, every year, on this night of nights. And so tonight and for many more nights after this, we will come around this Easter fire to be warmed by stories and dreams.
The stories we’ve heard tonight are stories of creation and recreation. In between there is temptation and defeat, exile and frustration. They are ancient stories but they come to life in books we have read and even in movies we have seen. They are stories that have been played out in history; they are stories we’ve seen in our own lives. They are stories about beginnings and endings, creation and redemption, and all manner of trials and failures in between.
My own father likes to tell the story of how I got out of my mother’s womb. Apparently, my mother was in labor from Thursday to Saturday. I just couldn’t get out because of my big head. I had to be “forcepped” out. And he would show this graphically to us, imitating the posture of the doctor who was pulling and pulling (like he was pulling a horse) while he leveraged himself against the delivery table.
That’s one story of my creation. I could have remained in my mother’s womb and shriveled inside like a rotten mango were it not for the heroic pushing of my mother and the creative pulling of the doctor. We are born never alone. We are born from the risks taken by those who love us, from the pain and sacrifice of others. We are born out of love, a love that is patient and enduring.
Surely we have our own stories about beginnings and endings and all sorts of subject matter in between. We shall befriend our memory and retrieve our journal or photo or letter collections, digital or otherwise, if only to help us remember and retell our gospels to ourselves, to each other, and to the world. Tonight and for the coming days, we will share our stories as sequels to these grand stories of creation and re-creation and everything in between.
The Easter fire is here to remind us that people of faith have been telling these stories for centuries, remembering them for each other, to warm their hearts and ward off the darkness and keep close to God. The Easter fire is here to assure us of the presence of Christ in these stories of our lives, and how our stories will always be treasured by God.
If there are stories to tell around this Easter fire, there are also dreams to be shared. If our stories are stories of creation and re-creation, our dreams are dreams of co-creation. Easter’s gift to us is the gift of shared power we wield with the Holy Spirit in renewing the face of the earth.
When I see videos of infants getting used to wearing masks, I tell myself this is not the kind of world we are supposed to leave them. When I hear of immunity passports being developed post-quarantine to allow people to move through checkpoints, I know this cannot be God’s dream for creation. Long before this pandemic struck us, we have already been turning inward and suspicious of the stranger and anyone not like us.
In this time of our prolonged Easter vigil, we will be humble enough to admit that we cannot just go back to the way things were before COVID-19. It cannot be just business as usual. These have been extraordinary times and so we will be small enough to ask for the extraordinary grace of personal and collective conversion.
Father Rene Javellana tells us that the iridescent blue of the kingfisher is now back here on campus. Even the dragonflies are back. The earth itself is going through some form of sabbath and is renewing itself. We can rebuild with nature again. Foolishly and dangerously, we have discarded creation in our desire for material prosperity and growth. If there is any lesson to be learned about biology, it is that we know so little. We do well therefore to rein in that Promethean pride and be more cautious about our double-edged tools, especially when it comes to the building blocks of life. In this new world, post-COVID-19, we will need to prescribe a more aggressive dose of reverence, reverence, reverence for life.
When we were asked to stay at home, we realized again that there were many of our own people who did not have homes. When we started to distribute food packs to communities, along with other groups, we discovered that there were countless others who were missed and not getting relief. We have numbered lists of drug addicts, we cannot even list those of us who are without homes. They are faceless and abandoned. We have discarded the social margins in our calculus of economic growth and progress. We can rebuild our economy again, with blueprints that include a new list this time of the faceless and nameless in our midst.
Rebuilding from the ruins
I look at our empty campus now and imagine what life will be like post-quarantine. It will not be the same. We can rebuild our institutions and systems to be more responsive and agile. We can do this especially for our health and social welfare and educational systems.
We can rebuild from the ruins. We can rebuild with one another, with our young ones who can see visions of this new future world, and with our old ones who can dream dreams from the wellspring of tradition and experience.
I invite you to dream of what this new world can and must be when we emerge from quarantine. Share these dreams with one another, with the world, and let these dreams be blessed by Easter fire, by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Last of all, let us ask for courage. If there is one proof of the resurrection, it is in the transformation of the disciples from a pathetic band of cowardly men who ran away from Calvary to a group of brave followers who could look death in the eye. You would think such new defiance to be short-lived. Do we really know what we’re asking when we ask the Lord to send out His Spirit to “renew the face of the earth”? Do we think that the Spirit can do just that without wounds being inflicted and crosses being borne on our shoulders? Will the world and our hearts just renew themselves without resistance?
Let us pray for this Easter boldness so that with the poet John Donne we can look death in the eye and say:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. – Rappler.com
Father Jose Ramon "Jett" Villarin, SJ, is president of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University.