Entering Jerusalem as the Pandemic Worsens

“When will this suffering end? Where is this heading? Is there hope?”

The sudden serious surge of COVID-19 infections has caught us all unaware. Most of us can hardly wrap our minds around the record-setting numbers of new infections the country is now facing. It is a punch in the gut considering that we have been battling this pandemic for more than a year now and that the Philippine government has imposed the longest and strictest lockdown in the world. Contrary to the claims of government officials, all the data shows that our citizens have been obedient; they have been compliant with safety protocols.

With a combination of hubris, a failed militaristic instead of a public health approach, incompetence and corruption, and the onslaught of new and more contagious COVID-19 variants, we are, for all intents and purposes, back to square one, in fact, ten steps backward according to former Health Secretary Cabral. This time, there is no ayuda for the poor and our health workers is at the brink while the government’s vaccination efforts falter. Surreally, the Duterte government continues to waste money and energy on a bogus insurgency threat even as the pandemic ravages our cities and islands.

Personally, just these past two weeks alone, several people I know have been infected, some even dying. Amid the worsening situation, we can all but wonder – when will this suffering end? Where is this heading? Is there hope?

Palm Sunday, and the other events we commemorate next week and in the coming Easter season, tells us yes.

The first day of Holy Week evokes the image of Jesus Christ, astride a donkey, entering Jerusalem and being welcomed by a throng of worshippers as they lay palm leaves and spread cloaks along his path and crying out in acclamation Hosanna!

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.” He was the Messiah, the long-awaited Ruler of Israel, the culmination of all of God’s promises to his people, and so the Israelites thought. The people, aware of the miracles and wonders he had been performing, believed that Christ was the messiah, the promised Savior who would free Israel from their Roman oppressors.

The entry into Jerusalem came after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. No small wonder the multitude was awestruck. Yet it is the same people who would later call for his crucifixion and cry out for his blood, choosing Barabbas, a murderer and a notorious robber, to be freed instead of Christ.

Today, many turn to despair, anger, impatience, and even doubt God’s love. Yet our God is a faithful God. He may seem not to show his face sometimes but for the faithful and persevering, he reveals himself without fail. Unlike those who misread the mission of Christ on earth during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his love is an abiding love and does everything for the salvation of those who trust in him. To God, everything has a purpose – and it is for the good of his creatures, even if in human terms we see it differently.

In the Message of his Holiness Pope Francis For the 2021 World Day of Vocations (25 April 2021), the Holy Father extols the virtues of Saint Joseph as an extraordinary figure, yet at the same time one “so close to our own human experience.” “He did not do astonishing things, he had no unique charisms, nor did he appear special in the eyes of those who met him. He was not famous or even noteworthy: the Gospels do not report even a single word of his. Still, through his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God,” adds the Holy Father.

It is in this ordinariness that St. Joseph accomplished extraordinary deeds in the eyes of the Lord. To Pope Francis – “God looks on the heart, and in Saint Joseph he recognized the heart of a father, able to give and generate life in the midst of daily routines.”

Vocations have this same goal: to beget and renew lives every day. The Lord desires to shape the hearts of fathers and mothers: Hearts that are open, capable of great initiatives, generous in self-giving, compassionate in comforting anxieties and steadfast in strengthening hopes. The priesthood and the consecrated life, and all of us actually, greatly need these qualities nowadays, in times marked by fragility but also by the sufferings due to the pandemic, which has spawned uncertainties and fears about the future and the very meaning of life.

We can surely transcend our fears of the virus and rise above any and all adversities if we regard Jesus’ will and plan, not through the materialistic, shallow, opportunistic and fickle eyes of the leaders of the Temple and the Romans that conspired to kill Jesus, but through the prism of St. Joseph’s vision – totally dependent on God’s mercy, love and faithfulness even as we find ourselves answering any and every vocation God is calling us.

Let us enter into Jerusalem in this pandemic singing: “Hosanna to Jesus, our Savior and King!

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