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Faith, trust and hope versus fear

Friday 18 February 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features

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Faith, trust and hope versus fear
Punanga Nui Market vendors wear masks at their stalls. Photo: MELINA ETCHES/22011607

It is only by working together in faith and by doing our part will it be possible to come through this Covid-19 crisis, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.

Covid-19 has affected the mental health of many people. This was brought home to me last week when working with a group of teachers. I asked them what new issues they were having to face in teaching and the topic of mental wellbeing surfaced. Living with the prospect of Covid-19 does affect our mental health. While children and the elderly are likely to be affected, in my opinion we are all vulnerable.

Covid-19 has caused anxiety, stress and worry. It stood out for me in the Prime Minister’s two communiques last week that Covid-19 is in the community. He acknowledged that some of us might be frightened and worried and he wanted to reassure us not to panic.

In the Cook Islands our fear and being worried may not be resulting so much as yet from the disease itself which is now only being discovered, as by its consequences. Within the country, we have had to deal with the social and economic effects of Covid-19. Possibly, there is a fear of falling sick and dying, fear of losing employment, fear that social distancing will isolate people from loved ones and friends. In some cases, it may be fear of starvation. If I live by myself and have to isolate who can I ask to bring me food? There might be the fear of being unable to cope with powerlessness and loneliness and the all-embracing fear about living with an uncertain future.

Many of us probably would have some thoughts similar to what I have just mentioned. On a recent trip to New Zealand my biggest fear was that when I returned, I would be the first to introduce Covid-19 into the Cook Islands. For me a word that sums up well our Covid-19 experience is “chaos” – living with the chaos that the pandemic has brought.

How can we deal with this unwanted chaos in our lives? While we have all the preventions and treatments given to us by Te Marae Ora, we cannot expect the health department to resolve every problem associated with Covid-19. 

My aim in this article is to support those directly concerned with Covid-19 with a biblical dimension. We can learn from the reactions of the disciples when caught in the fear-evoking experience of being at sea in a tumultuous storm.  The fragile faith of Peter, James and John, and the other disciples is exposed in the storm.  And Jesus uses the situation as an occasion to teach the disciples to grasp his divinity and consequently to grow in faith. This incident begins with Jesus climbing into the boat, followed by the disciples. (Matthew 8:23) They head out onto the lake and encounter the storm in all its strength.

The resulting chaos comes quickly. The boat is being swamped by the waves (Matthew 8:24). Jesus, like Jonah in a similar setting, is in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. He is asleep, despite the roaring of the wind and the tossing of the boat. This is chaos. Jesus is woken by the desperate calls of the terrified disciples. “Lord, save us! We are perishing.” (Matthew 8: 25.)   They not only doubt the promises of Jesus to protect them, they also reproach him for what they believe is his negligence. He in turn criticises their behaviour, saying, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matthew 8: 26) Then Jesus calms the sea. (Matthew 8:26). In the process he encourages the faith of the disciples by revealing his divine powers over chaos. And the disciples now with a deeper faith react by being astonished when the sea is suddenly calmed at the request of Jesus. “What sort of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8; 27).

There are some solid lessons for us living with the outcome of Covid-19 that we can learn from this incident as told by Matthew.

First, Jesus uses the calming of the sea of Galilee as an opportunity to teach his disciples to grasp his divinity. The world with all its medical experts has not beaten Covid-19. As soon as the medical world gets on top of a particular variant a new one springs up. How long will this go on for? The meaning of this story is not so much that Jesus stopped a storm in Galilee but rather that wherever Jesus is, the storms of life become a calm. It means that in the presence of Jesus the most terrible of tempests turns to peace. As we continue to battle Covid, it is my prayer that our faith in Jesus continues to increase, not decrease. More than ever it is the time to put our faith in Jesus to free us from the fears of Covid.

Secondly, this week I preached on the “sigh” of Jesus. (Mark 8: 11 – 13) This he uttered when the Pharisees asked him for a sign to test him and He responded: “…with a sigh that came straight from the heart”. People could accuse me of sighing similarly when announcing in church that we have to do our part to overcome Covid. Someone might answer that they are putting their complete trust in God and that there is no need to socially distance or wear masks. On the contrary, “God helps those who help themselves!” Genesis 1:26 teaches that we are co-creators and we must take responsibility for our part and not abandon it to God alone.

God has always demanded we work together with Him and that we have a part to play. To cut out our part is demeaning to us as creatures of God.

Thirdly, we are invited by our Saviour to use the pandemic as an invitation to journey into a deeper faith. Pope Francis in speaking of the pandemic notes said:  “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm and we find ourselves afraid and lost … the storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It lays bare all the pre-packaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our souls.”

Lastly, like the disciples, we realise that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves alone. It is only by working together in faith and by doing our part will it be possible to come through the crisis. In Jesus, Pope Francis reminds us we have an anchor, by His cross we have been saved. We have a rudder; by His cross we have been redeemed. We have hope.

  • Sourced from “The Pandemic and the People of God.” Gerard A. Arbuckle.