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We are people of faith in some ways at least. Many of us subscribe to a faith or religion and we try to practice it everyday. We read our holy books, our testaments that embody the truths of our faith, and we pray. We sometimes pray hard and frenetically hoping for a miracle to solve some problem or issue in our lives. Sometimes we pray joyfully. We try to practice the prayer of being, the prayer that requires we just sit there and let God talk to our open heart. And, despite our prayer and faith we are doubtful and even angry about the last few years of the pandemic. We ask God to enlighten our belief.
But there are also people of no faith. They wander listlessly in a desert of detachment, no lifeline to a loving God. Many say they wish they could believe but the reality of faith eludes them even though they have good hearts, moral souls, and an abundance of kindness and understanding of their fellow human beings. These persons amaze me because they live noble lives of unselfishness without expecting a receipt, the guarantee of a place in heaven! I don’t worry about them either because their intentions and actions are pure goodness, and I’m fairly certain they will be with the happy citizens of heaven for eternity.
It seems, however, that lately I have been besieged with questions from believers about the anxiety they have experienced when losing beloved family and friends during this pandemic. The faith of these good people has come to a screeching halt. I get comments like, “I wasn’t there when she died so how do I know she had prayerful support?” “We could not hold his hand and whisper comfort. No one did that for him.” “I’m angry at God for allowing this.” One woman whose husband was a non-believer argued that if she had been with him as he died, she believes he would have accepted the sacrament of baptism.
I think two realities are occurring at this point in our journey with this ever-changing virus which seems determined to continue ensnaring us in its grip. One, the shocking grief of COVID’s first invasion and its boring through our unprepared humanity prior to vaccines, is settling into a long-term grief, no less palpable but better handled. Two, we are now beginning to let this long-term grief evolve into positive action. Questioning God, or one’s faith is a good start provided you do some positive seeking as you question. I recommend that grieving individuals seek out psychological counseling or support groups. I also recommend spiritual guidance in how to pray and quiet the soul in the face of loss. I think we are living in this period of post-shock from the trauma of COVID loss. This would also include losses related to COVID such as loss of employment, business, home, educational goals and many more. While this new year is in its infancy, we might want to take stock and list what we have lost so we can face a year where we will celebrate rehabilitation, at least psychologically and spiritually.
The recent death of Pope Benedict XVI brought some of this to mind for me. You might have guessed that I was not much in agreement with Benedict’s hardline approach to guiding his flock of believers. However, it appears his role as Pope refined the sharp edges of his career as a cardinal in charge of church doctrine. In a lengthy biographical article in The New York Times, Benedict’s biographer, John Allen, was quoted by Jesuit Father Thomas Reese citing the late Pope’s “affirmative orthodoxy” which in his later years “…emphasized the good that Catholic life could bring rather than the actions the church forbade.” This is quite an insight into the man suggests Allen. In his 2007 encyclical on hope, Benedict said, “The question arises: Do we really want this – to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive.”
He knew, on the practical level that some people, especially those cautious about the existence of heaven, might find the idea of heaven as “monotonous and ultimately unbearable.” Really, how much can you do with angels all around you and saints peeking over your shoulder forever and ever?
But then he added what I find consoling and a profoundly moving theology about anyone who dies, believer or not, and I offer it for your reflection this week as you take stock of the losses you have endured these past three years. The pope of sheer doctrine opened his heart and said of death: “…it would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.” Think about it. A continual plunging in love. Deeper and deeper. Finding out more about your Lover as you explore in Love’s arms. This is a beautiful way to think of death; you might want to copy it and post where you can see it.
Reflect on this my friends as our new year matures and as the pandemic brings challenges we cannot predict. Realize that all those we knew and loved have been absorbed in this plunging of love whether we got to send them off or not. They are in the arms of an unfathomable Love even if they didn’t believe. Their struggle made them worthy. Pray with Benedict’s words and open your heart to God’s love.My prayers and love and concern are with all of my readers and my Anonymous Angels who send private emails on whatever I write.
I find quotes like this one on ‘an ocean of love’ help me to understand why people enjoyed the writings of the recently deceased Pope emeritus Benedict. Thank you for such moving thoughts, much for reflection!