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How Long Lord?

Such is the prayer of the author of Psalm 13. It is our prayer. Paradoxically, or tragically, it has taken a pandemic to distract us from the most recent abuse crisis in the Church. It’s just one thing after another. How long, Lord? 

Even as I am preparing this reflection, State Governors and city mayors all over the Nation are speaking of a ‘crisis of dramatic proportions which will increase over the next few days.’ Governor Cuomo of NY has said that ‘we are not out of the woods yet because we have yet to enter the woods.’ The prospects are not rosy and there is much reason for fear and anxiety. My heart and prayers go out in a special way to those who are distressed and anxious for themselves and their loved ones.

As we struggle with how to handle the abrupt interruption to our lives and the uncertainty that COVID 19 has leashed upon us, we may find ourselves in the anxious situation of trying to decide ‘what to do?’ To paraphrase the individual in the Lord’s parable of the Rich Fool in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 12: 13-21): “I know what I will do! I will stockpile toilet paper and water and sanitizer and peanut butter and oh yes, don’t forget the ammo.” Some are now hoarding the drug Hydroxychloroquine. Just type in ‘hydro’, Google will do the rest for you. To all those impelled to hoard, at the expense of others, the Lord answers with these simple and laconic words: “You fool.”

Now, let’s rephrase the question from “what am I to do?” to “whom shall we go?” In recent days, we have all undoubtedly been bombarded with videos or other forms of social media regarding one aspect or another of the present crisis, and we have been bombarding others: Watch this video! Do a live stream! Link to this site! Read this reflection! We are, it seems to me, desperately and anxiously struggling to come to terms with a new way of life – short-lived we hope – and, it seems to me, we are far from the serenity and peace the Lord desires for us in all circumstances. Responsibility, prudence, caution, care for others, yes; but fear and anxiety, no. Fear is not of God. I would suggest that even more than a struggle with a new way of life, we are unwillingly forced to come to terms with a fear that is the worm at the center of our existence: the fear of death.

One way to deal with this fear is to buy into the hyper-activity proposed by our culture as a way to chase away the specter of death. To be constantly active and therefore distracted from the deeper questions. These very days we are challenged and we are obliged to sit with ourselves, to recognize and suffer with our helplessness and insecurity and to take stalk of what is most important in our lives. On a recent retreat, I ended a conference inviting the participants to silence offering a wonderful line from the great French philosopher Blaise Paschal: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” In Psalm 46 God reaches out to us: “Be still and know that I am God.”

For the many of you whom have been on a retreat here at Holy Name, now may be the time to draw from the many graces and insights received over the numerous retreats. Are you more aware that ‘the Passion of Christ continues in this world until He comes in glory’? Do you see how the wisdom of the Cross is more necessary now than ever? The Constitutions of the Passionists state: “The Power of the Cross, which is the wisdom of God, gives us strength to discern and remove the causes of human suffering.” Notice the itinerary: wisdom of God; discernment; action. To switch those elements around is to adopt a wisdom that is merely human wisdom, nothing more … “you are thinking like man thinks.” Wisdom is essential now more than ever.

Many of you may remember the retreat season with the theme Ave Crux Spes Unica: Hail to the Cross our Only Hope. During that retreat I shared with you a poignant and simple way of praying with a Crucifix, handed on to us by St. Paul of the Cross:

“When you are alone in your room, take your crucifix, kiss its five wounds reverently, tell it to
preach to you a little sermon, and then listen to the words of eternal life that it speaks to your heart; listen to the pleading of the thorns, the nails, the precious Blood. Oh, what an eloquent
sermon!” 

I assume you all have a crucifix somewhere; some of you may have the one unique to Holy Name Retreat Center which is an exact replica of the Limpias Crucifix hanging in our Chapel. The Cross is the Wisdom of God.

Pray with your favorite Crucifix drawing from the wellsprings of the wisdom of the Cross.

I humbly suggest that this is what we are to do, and Whom we are to go to.

Fraternally yours in Christ,
Joseph Barbieri, C.P.