During the past year, although the infamous “Covid-19 label” has been tagged on to everything e.g. the Covid generation, Covid taskforce, Covid restrictions, it is NOT the centre of our lives.
“The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history.”
With the very first line of the very first encyclical letter issued by St John Paul II in 1979, the Pope placed Jesus Christ at the very centre of modernity as his pontificate began and galvanized the attention of the world to Jesus as Universal Lord and Saviour. He went on to show by personal example how no crisis could stop the love of God in Jesus from penetrating the hearts of all men and women regardless of their belief or unbelief.
During the year ahead, may we be reminded that we are not living in “Covid times” but in the two thousand and twenty-first year of the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ our King. The singular event of the incarnation, life, passion, death and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ is the reference point for all other events of human history – no matter how glorious or tragic they may be.
God is our Father, who loves us and enters our reality in the person of His Son Jesus Christ and then enlightens our experience with the gift of the Holy Spirit – we must ask ourselves whether we are learning through the sufferings of this time to accept our fragility and leaning on Him more, whether we have become so paralysed by the fear of this pandemic that it dictates how we think and behave.
God invites us to see the flip-side of social distancing – spiritual connectivity. With His aid, on this last day of the Christmas Octave, we can feel the poverty and desperation of Mary and Joseph as they frantically look for a place to stay in the anxious and tired looks of foreign workers in their dormitories pining for home; we are able to sense the silence of Bethlehem in the quiet shopping malls and see the Christ-child swaddled tight in the manger in the elderly people shut in at home unable to come out. And just like the shepherds, we are awed by the self-sacrifice of our frontline healthcare workers in ministering to others and forgetting self. And although we may be unable to travel as we want, we can take the opportunity to spend more time with our family members e.g. visit our elderly who are shut in, or play games with our children we seldom had time for.
God also invites us to experience the most fundamental relationship we have life – the relationship with self. Since this is rooted in our relationship with God i.e. “Love one another as I have loved you”, if we can rest in God, then we are perfectly able to rest in our selves – just like Jesus resting in the boat in the midst of the storm – and find peace and rest for our souls.
In his meditation on Jesus’ parable of the talents, Pope Francis noted that the Christian life is essentially about doing good, and not merely about avoiding evil.
“It is significant that the servants who invested their talents, who took risks for their master, are called ‘faithful’ four times,” he said. “For the Gospel, faithfulness is never risk-free… It is sad when Christians play a defensive game, content only to observe rules and obey commandments.”
He noted, “Following rules is not enough; fidelity to Jesus is not just about not making mistakes, this is quite wrong,” he added. “That is what the lazy servant in the parable thought: for lack of initiative and creativity, he yielded to needless fear and buried the talent he had received.”
The Holy Father went on to note a paradox: the master calls the lazy servant “evil” because he had failed to act. “The master actually calls him ‘wicked’. And yet he did nothing wrong! But he did nothing good either,” the Pope reflected. “The Lord, for his part, asks us to be generous, to conquer fear with the courage of love, to overcome the passivity that becomes complicity,” he said.
So in the year ahead, let perfect Love incarnate cast out all our fear and inspire us to take risks with our gifts and talents with creative boldness as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Church in our nation.
Joseph Tan is retired, with a graduate degree in Theology.