Second Sunday of Lent
March 8, 2020
On Thursday, February 28th, as the very dire consequences of the coronavirus were being reported, the Church was celebrating the lives of “unnamed” disciples, collectively referred to as THE MARTYRS OF ALEXANDRIA.
Some might call it a coincidence, but it certainly seems providential that as the financial markets were “crashing,” we were “raising up” in loving memory an example of the way Christians are called to respond to catastrophic emergencies and the human suffering they bring.
Plagues and highly contagious diseases have always been part of the human experience. In the middle of the 3rd century, a pandemic spread throughout the ancient world. At the time, Christianity was an underground movement. The targets of bloody persecutions, early Christians had no choice but to worship in secret. Then, in the year 261 A.D., a highly contagious disease spread throughout the Roman Empire. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was hard hit. The residents of the city were totally ill-equipped to face the challenges of the pandemic. The sick were not cared for. Corpses were simply thrown into the street, which fueled the spread of the deadly disease.
In our First Reading, we are told how God challenged Abram to leave his place of security and comfort and venture into the unknown. So, too, the early Christians of Alexandria were motivated by The Holy Spirit to leave the relative safety of secret rooms and secluded places to bring the Gospel into the light of day.
Historic documents report how these courageous disciples began to care for the sick and bury the dead. Through these public acts of charity, they risked arrest and persecution. The highly contagious disease was an even greater threat. Many of them contracted and fell victim to the lethal virus. And so, today, we honor them as martyrs of our church.
One can’t help but marvel at the courage it took for these disciples to respond so lovingly to the very people that were persecuting them. Clearly, even though they were forced to practice our faith “underground,” they had been to the “mountaintop” and were transfigured…changed…made radiant in the way they reflected the Light of Christ. With the strength that came from God, they gladly embraced the hardships of caregiving for the sake of the Gospel.
There is a great deal of confusion and conflicting information about the disease that is rapidly spreading around the globe today. Here in the United States, there is a debate over how serious this epidemic actually is, and whether we, as a nation, are prepared to meet the challenges it poses. It is hard to know what we are to believe.
We Christians, however, are absolutely certain of this much: love is infinitely more powerful than any pandemic. We know this to be true because of our love for humankind. Our Savior, Christ Jesus … destroyed death and brought life and mortality to light through the Gospel.
We can be confident, as well, of the truth that Christian charity is as contagious as the most infectious disease. Acts of charity spread and spread rapidly. And we disciples are “ground zero.” It is our duty as Children of the Light…as a Resurrection people…to follow the heroic example of the Martyrs of Alexandria, and bring comfort and healing to those who are suffering and in need.
At this point, we have been spared the hardship that comes with this virus. But what we can do now is to make those who are afflicted, as well as first responders, medical personnel, and caregivers the focus of our Lenten PRAYER. We might also recommit to FASTING; offering up our sacrifices for the success of scientists and researchers who are working to find an effective immunization. Aware that it is the poor who suffer most in times of crisis, it would be most appropriate to step up our ALMSGIVING.
There are many unanswered questions raised by the coronavirus. Among the uncertainties is our capability as a nation to test for the virus. We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, also have some questions to answer. These questions are an effective way of testing our spiritual health.
Would I respond to the Call of The Holy Spirit in the same way as the Martyrs of Alexandria?
Do I have the strength of faith it takes to leave my comfort zone in order to bring healing to those in greatest need?
Am I willing to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel?
Do I test positive for Christ?