Amid the Pandemic and Always: Acknowledge, Repent, and Recognize

Elsie Miranda

According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is not a feast that the church celebrates only one day of the year.  The seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sundays are called Eastertide, when the church reflects scripturally on the mystery of the Resurrection. 

Bondings 2.0 has created the “Out of the Tomb” series to present reflections on the liturgical readings for these Sundays and Ascension Thursday for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, by clicking here.

Today’s post is from Dr. Elsie Miranda, a Cuban-American, Roman Catholic Practical Theologian, who serves as Director of Accreditation and Institutional Effectiveness at The Association of Theological Schools.  For twenty years, she taught and ministered at Barry University, Florida.  Her academic interests are in Liberation Theologies, Practical Theological Method, Hispanic Latinx Theology, Pastoral Care and Counseling, and Queer Theology.   

The Fourth Sunday of Easter feels like a strange kind of in-between time. Even though we are three weeks from Pentecost, elements of Good Friday still seem to linger.  It’s a stranger time also this year because as we entered Holy Week, the entire world entered the Passion of Christ as we were collectively exposed to the atrocious impact of COVID -19. In this strange in-between time, Easter happened despite Church closures. People found ways to be church and to break bread, even if apart. In this strange in-between time, we face the challenge of acknowledging and mourning our losses; we take stock in evaluating what remains; we make the changes that need to be made, and recognize what is fundamental to life, namely faith, hope and love. Today’s readings invite us to engage in three actions for this in-between time: (1) to acknowledge loss, (2) to repent & save ourselves, and (3) to hear and recognize God’s voice.

In the reading from Acts, we hear that Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified.”  Many parallels exist between Peter’s admonishment to the whole house of Israel and the implicit admonishment communities of our day face amid a global pandemic. For surely, everywhere we look we find Christ crucified today. The Catholic LGBTQ community is no stranger to the modern Calvary experience. Many of us have endured the loss of family, of friends, of jobs, of identity – or we’ve lost our Church, our faith, or our way.  Acknowledging our losses allows us to grieve, and to mourn what will never be the same. This practice provides us with the interior space to recalibrate our heart, mind, and soul to face a new reality. Together we must find new answers to the question, where do we go from here?

Peter’s admonishment is followed by the directive: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  If we dare be stripped bare by the truth of our own inconsistencies, there is much to be repentant about. This idea was highlighted by a text message exchange I had just before Easter with a dear friend who is in her 80s. Because all the churches were closed, she asked me if I had been able to find some way receive the sacrament of confession or Eucharist. My response to her was a bare-boned: “no, in lockdown.”  She replied that she hadn’t either, and it troubled her greatly. Smugly, I replied, “what could trouble you so much? You are one of the kindest people I know, you should be hearing Father’s confession.” She said, “The virus got me thinking… I am not afraid to die, but I fear dying without repenting for my dependence on fossil fuels, for my obsessive consumption, for my silence regarding immigrants, for my apathy towards all that pains the earth, and for my indifference to all the glorious creatures I have done nothing to support. I may be kind, but I have not loved enough! I don’t want to die, holding on to my participation in this cycle of death. I NEED to be forgiven and I NEED to receive Eucharist!”

I share this story, because my friend, like Peter, shouted out what I dare say, we all need! “To repent, to be baptized, to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit… and to save [ourselves] from this corrupt generation.” My friend’s sincerity, both humbled and challenged me. For truly, it is the path of repentance and conversion that leads not only to our salvation but to the salvation of the world.

These ideas us to the Gospel, where Jesus says, “Amen, Amen I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate… is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls them each by name and leads them out… he walks ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.”

I find that today, among the many challenges of being a Catholic and a citizen of the world, is our collective need to re-cognize (to hear again) the voice of our true Shepherd. Like the sheep in the Gospel, are we willing to hear, to discern, and to trust where the voice of God is leading us? Like my friend, are we willing to recognize our own participation in the sinful systems that destroy the sacredness of the earth (and her inhabitants)—and repent? What will it take for each of us to recognize that God who calls us out by name also leads us to proclaim to the world that Jesus, Lord and Christ, is the source and summit of our actions? Amid the cacophony of truths and lies that boggle the mind, what are we doing as baptized Christians to be the church sent out into the world, “to save this corrupt generation”?

May we find comfort in the lived encounter with the Lord Jesus who is our Divine Shepherd, who guides us in right paths, who anoints our head with oil, who is the One in whom our cup overflows so that we may become the balm that is offered to heal and comfort others. In this in-between time, may we accept the invitation to acknowledge our losses, to repent for our participation in the cycles of death, in the hope that we may not only save ourselves, but bear witness to The One who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Together may we say, Amen, Amen!

Elsie Miranda, May 3, 2020

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