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  • Sarah Raad

Infection

If only I could see the Face of Christ in all the faces that I see. What a wonderous sight that would be to behold…

Portrait of John of the Cross (Arnold van Westerhout)

Though the world has seen far more terrible things, this COVID19 pandemic is fast becoming the greatest disaster that the world has seen in recent history. While we in Australia are very lucky that we have for the most part, felt little of the devastating impacts of this pandemic, for most people in the world, lockdowns, sickness, death and isolation have become normal during the last 18 months or so.


And yet, even with our relative protection from this pandemic, we too, in Australia have experienced a new sort of normal. You have only to look around you at the marks of the pandemic. Phrases that did not exist two years ago, like “social distancing” are now a natural part of our vocabulary. People tell each other to stay safe – as though we really have any control over our safety. The sick are now so many times villainised by the media for their illness. We want enquiries, investigations and retribution for every infection and every case. These sick are the lepers of our time…


Despite, all these changes, most of us continue to see this thing as temporary. You have only to look at the signage, which was temporarily erected in our shopping centres, places of business and places of worship a year and a half ago and note their state of disrepair now to realise that not many people thought this was a long-term event.


Perhaps many people were like me, hoping against hope that “this will be over by Christmas…” LAST YEAR…


I guess that it is part of our human nature to seek an end to discomfort. During the first few months of World War I in 1914, people often said, “The war will be over by Christmas.” And yet it ended just before the Christmas of 1918, and was swiftly followed by a far worse pandemic than the one we are currently experiencing, which claimed over 50 million lives and was called the Spanish Influenza Pandemic.


Upon reflection, it occurs to me that this hope for the end of suffering is a natural part of our human nature. I see it as evidence that we were made for a world very different from this one…

For in this world, suffering only ends when suffering ends – because suffering ends when we are made new…

And yet, how often have I ignored this truth and prayed in the same way? “Dear God, please let it end. Please help me now. I miss my baby. My feelings are hurt. My heart is sore. Please make this stop. Please make this end. It is too much to bear. Help me. Help me. Help me. I cannot bear it…”


How little do I say to my Beloved, “Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36).


And now, as I listen more intently to the saints, I find that I am catching some of their fervour… For their prayers are infectious and they do great good…


Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes suffered so greatly during her very short life. After contracting cholera as a toddler, her health was poor and she experienced severe and chronic asthma. At the very young age of 35 and in great pain, she died of tuberculosis of the lungs and bone. She called her pain “good”. She said… “all this is good for Heaven!” For she believed that “Nothing is anything anymore to me, everything is nothing to me, only Jesus! Neither things nor persons neither ideas nor emotions, neither honour nor sufferings. Jesus is for me honour, delight, heart and soul.”


And when she was asked about her visions of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Bernadette said, “The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.” So, for Saint Bernadette, when the time came for the broom to be packed behind the door again, she used her final words on Earth to pray, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.”


This great and holy saint prayed for the intercession of the Virgin for the forgiveness of sins…


Saint Padre Pio spoke also of bitter sin… “How bitter the thought is of having to give account to God for sins that we made others commit because of the wrong direction in which we were going... You cannot know what a thorn this concern is for me. It is always embedded at the core of my spirit, and it makes me suffer at every moment… All my strength is useless in removing or even diminishing this very painful thorn. It does not leave me for an instant.”

The desire of these great saints to atone for sin was infectious… It spread to others, who learned also to atone for sin.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta ministered to the poor and sick, and she understood a thing or two about infection herself… She said, “Let anyone who comes to you go away feeling better and happier. Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile. Joy … cannot be kept closed inside us. It reacts outside. Joy is very infectious.”


But this infectious love and joy in caring for the sick was not simply a concern of the 20th century, but of the 16th century as well. Saint John of God, also ministered to the sick and poor. One day, he picked up a sick beggar from the street, took him home and cleaned him. He placed the man in his own bed to tend to him, and when he bent to kiss the poor man’s feet – as was his custom – he saw the wounds of Christ’s own feet on that beggar. Looking up into the man’s face, Saint John of God saw the face of Christ, who said to him, “Whatever you do to the needy and suffering, you do it to Me.”


I wonder if through Grace, I too could be infected with this great joy of giving…


Then, what wonderous beauty and love I would see in the faces of my fellow men?


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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