A time of fear and trembling

Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Lent and the Gospel reading recall Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Tired from a journey, the Lord was sitting by the well, the Jacob’s well.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink. In those days, the Jews were not on speaking terms with the people of Samaria (today located in the northern West Bank) as both claim to be the true religion. 

It is in this context that the Samaritan woman asked Jesus, a Jew, why he was asking for a drink from a woman of Samaria. To which Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” And further promised her that whosoever drinks of the water he will give them will never be thirsty. “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” the Lord added.

Although His answer might have been confusing to her as he was talking in cryptic and mysterious manner, the Samaritan woman readily accepted Jesus’ offer and asked for this water so that she may never be thirsty or have to keep coming to the well to draw water.

The Gospel reading teaches us a few things in life and in our faith in Jesus Christ: that salvation is inclusive and open to everybody even those who are considered different because of their race, ethnicity, gender or status in life as long as one believes in the message of Jesus Christ.

This is a time of fear and trembling. We are worried and fearful because of the terrifying things happening around us. People are anxious and apprehensive about the contagion that has already infected more than a hundred thousand people, killed thousands, rapidly spreading in all corners of the globe, disrupting every social and economic fabric of most communities. Social distancing, lockdowns, and hospital triages have become common use words.

Much like in the Gospel reading, we are thirsty for security and assurance, and we crave to drink the water that will dispel our worry and lack of peace of mind. But in the mad frenzy to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the contagion and its attendant consequences, we often overlook that it is in this very same situation that Jesus is inviting us to drink, like the Samaritan woman, the waters of eternal life.

In this context, as Fr. Roque Ferriols, SJ, the wisest living Filipino, taught me forty years ago in a course on the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the fear and trembling we now feel has immense value – if it pushes us to ask help for our unbelief and lead us to authentic faith.

Faith of course must never be an excuse for negligence and recklessness. God gave us reason so that we can respond to events rationally. Science and good governance are gifts that comes from a loving Almighty who wants us to have all the tools necessary to combat evil and bad things that come our way.

That is why I support fully the decision of Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, to give the faithful dispensation from going to mass this Sunday and to not have public activities in churches in the next week. This is why the churches in Rome are closing until early April. The Catholic Church has learned from history when some religious leaders recklessly exposed the faithful to danger by conducting novenas and processions during epidemics.

The Health Minister of Singapore is right when he said that in the days ahead countries with an adequate  public health system, good governance, and strong social capital will do better in responding to the coronavirus crisis. We don’t have all three and must work overtime to prepare us better for the tough days ahead.

With this in mind, we should pray every day the oratio imperata issued by the CBCP:

“God our Father, We come to you in our need to ask your protection against the 2019 N-Corona Virus, that has claimed lives and has affected many.

We pray for your grace for the people tasked with studying the nature and cause of this virus and its disease and of stemming the tide of its transmission. Guide the hands and minds of medical experts that they may minister to the sick with competence and compassion, and of those governments and private agencies that must find cure and solution to this epidemic.

We pray for those afflicted may they be restored to health soon. Grant us the grace to work for the good of all and to help those in need.

Grant this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen. Mary Help of all Christians, pray for us.St. Raphael the Archangel, pray for us. St. Rock, pray for us.St. Lorenzo Ruiz, pray for us. St. Pedro Calungsod, pray for us.”

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