First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Responsorial Psalm 66: 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18
Gospel: John 14:15-21
‘I always feel afraid. But in that fear, I live in hope.’
That was the headline of a May 6th Chicago Tribune article by Ariel Cheung. She collected written and oral reports from Chicago area nurses “telling their stories from the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.” The timing of the article was set to honor nurses during National Nurses Week, May 6-12.
“How are you living through this new norm?” That was the question the Tribune asked Chicagoland nurses to address. Sixty nurses responded.
This lengthy series of nurses’ quotations struck me in particular because of a passage in this Sunday’s second reading that comes from the First Letter of Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” (1 Pt 3:15b) The Christians to whom that letter was addressed were facing threats of persecution, possibly death. The letter’s author wrote to them to bolster their courage in a difficult time. What was the reason for their hope? The Good News of Jesus the Christ. Christian disciples had spread the Word in cities, towns, and villages. Their listeners had come to believe that Jesus had died, had risen from the dead, and had ascended into heaven and that God had given those left behind “another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth.” (Jn 12:16)
We collectively are living in a time filled with fear. An invisible pathogen has multiplied beyond counting, has hitched a ride around the world, and continues to mutate. As of mid-May, the virus had sickened more than 3.7 million people in just a matter of months and had killed close to 300,000 people worldwide. In the US alone, more people have died from this Covid-19 virus than did US troops in the Vietnam War, a war that lasted decades. The speed of the spread of this pandemic is shocking. The daily news reports of the rising number of cases and deaths are mind-boggling.
Serving on the frontlines of this pandemic today, Chicago nurses and all those likewise caring for the sick are working smack dab in the middle of unprecedented danger from Covid-19. They may or may not believe in Jesus the Christ, or in any God at all. So what is the basis of their hope? How do they keep going? Here is one nurse’s response:
“My days though are filled with both fear and hope. Fear that I will infect one of my patients. Fear that my fiancée who has cancer will be infected by something I carried home. Fear that someone will berate me on the street because I’m a nurse. I always feel guilty. I always feel afraid. But in that fear, I live in hope and among hope. My oncology patients still brave the risks of coming to the hospital every single day. I still see acts of kindness that remind me my work is important: People donating food, writing signs, or flashing their lights thanking front line workers. The new normal? I don’t know what that is or will be. But I can say that in a world of fear, I see plenty of hope. And it’s that hope that I believe will shape our new normal.” — Aneta Piton, oncology nurse, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
Even though the devastating daily news reports about the progress of the coronavirus give us plenty of reason to despair, people of faith can yet glimpse the life-giving Spirit of the Divine coursing through their communities, inspiring selfless action, and drawing people together to create countless projects for the common good. So many people are feeding children and whole families who would otherwise go hungry, sewing masks for grocery clerks and others who have essential jobs, improvising ways to create plastic face shields, donating money to support people out of work, and giving a hand to family members and neighbors who dare not go out for groceries. You have probably been among those taking some action for others, right?
Whenever that Spirit of generosity spurs someone like you to act in love, we believe the unseen God who is Love empowers that love being extended. As we witness this love in action, let us recall the words of Psalm 66 appointed for this Sunday’s worship: “Come and see the works of God, his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.” (Ps 66:16) Despite our own fear, let us respond in hope, singing our psalm refrain: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.”
Eileen D. Crowley, PhD
Associate Professor of Liturgy, Arts, and Communications