The First Sunday of Advent: Pope Francis’ Covid-19 Reflection

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B; 64: 2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; I Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37

Last week, Pope Francis wrote a beautiful Covid-19 reflection in the New York Times (NYT).

He recalled how the pandemic’s unsung heroes reminded him of his own brush with death when he was just 21 years old.  At that tender age, he was hospitalized with a pulmonary infection that ultimately cost him part of a lung.

At the height of his crisis, two nuns working as nurses in his Argentine hospital ignored doctors’ prescriptions and doubled the dosage of penicillin and streptomycin in one case and increased his pain killers on the other. Their courage in doing so, the Pope is convinced, saved his life.

Generous, courageous souls like the two religious sisters who helped him then have reemerged, Francis noted, during the pandemic. They’re the “saints next door.” They’ve saved innumerable lives as nurses, doctors, caregivers. They’re the essential workers who in many countries have regularly been applauded at doorsteps and windows with genuine gratitude and awe.

The selflessness of such heroes has sometimes cost them their lives. But many among those champions sacrificed freely knowing as Francis put it, that “it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call.” They represent the antibodies to an infection among us far more dangerous than Covid 19 – the virus of indifference.

Writing pointedly in the premiere U.S. newspaper, Francis identified that more dangerous virus with governments that have not put the well-being of their people first. Instead, they have “shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths.” They’ve pandered to groups opposing travel restrictions, social distancing and facemasks as if such measures constitute “some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!” Francis said that worship of that kind of liberty has become for many a kind of ideology obstructing all understandings of common good.

In Francis’ view, such selfish shortsightedness shows that Covid-19 is merely one of the pandemics currently afflicting our planet. Hunger, violence and climate change are others. All of them lack perspective and generosity.

Responding effectively means attuning our sensibilities to the pain of others who have been deprived of life’s basic needs – work, food, housing and human dignity. Responding means recognizing that we’re never saved alone; we are bound by human solidarity and reciprocity.

Reading the pope’s words, I couldn’t help thinking of parallels between them and our readings for the first Sunday of Advent. Together, they call us to reverse course – to wake up from our collective stupor to the presence of what some call God in the neighbors, heroes and martyrs whom Francis’ words identify so poignantly.

What follow are my “translations” of the readings in question. Please check the originals here to see if I’ve got them right.      

 Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B; 64: 2-7

 We have lost our way;
 We’ve hardened our hearts;
 We no longer even know
 What faithfulness means.
 We feel somehow unclean,
 Polluted and aimless.
 Yet, we long to see more deeply
 To reality’s very heart
 As never before.
 Reunion with You, Divine Mother
 Is what we ultimately crave –
 To be refashioned
 As if we were clay
 In your lovely hands.
 
 Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19

 So, please show us your face.
 Save us from ourselves.
 Strengthen us.
 Bring us home.
 Demonstrate again
 Your care for us
 As a shepherd guarding her flock,
 As a gardener tending her vine.

 I Corinthians 1: 3-9

 Oh, wait
 You’ve already done that
 Haven’t you?
 You’ve answered our prayer
 In Yeshua, the Christ.
 His loving kindness
 And revolutionary teachings
 Bring clarity, insight
 And serene understanding.
 They restore
 Meaning to our communal lives.
 
 Mark 13: 33-37

 Above all
 (Like the Buddha)
 Yeshua commanded us
 To wake up
 To see
 What sleepers miss:
 Constant divine manifestations
 At our very doorstep
 When we expect
 Them least
 Morning, noon and night. 

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

5 thoughts on “The First Sunday of Advent: Pope Francis’ Covid-19 Reflection”

  1. Mike your comments and amplifications of pope Francis’s wonderful teachings, only add more beauty and meaning to these divine understandings. The spiritual depth that our extreme crisis is bringing out in many of us is truly inspiring and strengthening for me. Thank you so much for continuing to share truth in spite of the harsh challenges it is facing in our world today.

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  2. https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/scripture-scholar-john-wijngaards-lays-out-reasons-ordain-women

    Scripture scholar John Wijngaards lays out the reasons to ordain women Oct 3, 2020

    (Dreamstime/Peter Titmuss)

    WHAT THEY DON’T TEACH YOU IN CATHOLIC COLLEGE: WOMEN IN THE PRIESTHOOD AND THE MIND OF CHRIST

    By John Wijngaards

    216 pages; Acadian House

    $16.95

    In a small, very readable and well-argued book, John Wijngaards presents his decadeslong research on women’s ministry. The reader of What They Don’t Teach You in Catholic College: Women in the Priesthood and the Mind of Christ is invited to follow him on a journey that recalls his own awakening shortly after the Second Vatican Council to his present scholarship on the issue.

    Wijngaards’ verdict is unequivocal: If the church continues to ignore insights from Scripture, reason and experience in favor of the tradition, it perpetuates a cultural prejudice that has held back millions of women. Given the changes in similar teachings, slavery in particular, there is no reason why the position toward women could not change.

    Examining Scripture takes up most of the book. It is moving to see the argument develop in close readings of biblical texts. Jesus’ words, deeds and relationships to women must be read in view of the cultural context of women’s subordination, Wijngaards argues. Jesus did not call for the radical overthrow of the patriarchal order — but neither did he call for the abolition of the institution of slavery.

    The Gospel of Luke highlights the importance of women in the formation of the church. Regarding Jewish religious institutions, Jesus radically questioned an exclusivist understanding of priestly sacrality and sacredness and instead preaches the grace and love of God who dwells in the heart of everyone.

    While the 12 apostles were the first authentic witnesses of faith, they were not the only part of the emerging ministry. According to Acts, the members of the early community experienced the Spirit’s presence as overcoming cultural and social divisions. Wijngaards carefully reconstructs the development of these early communities and their governance structures.

    He emphasizes that according to Paul, in the Christian communities, sex, class or race must not play a role, and he names the explicit pastoral qualifications for priesthood, which included men and women. The Letter to the Hebrews summarizes these as vocation, suffering, compassion and kindness in dealing with others. None of these qualities are gendered.

    Yet, examining the second source of theological judgment — tradition — Wijngaards acknowledges that the classical teaching excluded women from priesthood.

    The obstacles to women’s leadership have always been their body and their sex. Until the revision in 1917, canon law ascribed a natural weakness of mind to women, asserting that they are not created in the image of God and, by nature, are subject to men. Established especially by the most influential theologians of medieval theology, including Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, this view confused cultural bias with natural and divine law.

    Wijngaards, however, counters that “tradition” must necessarily be complemented by the other sources of theological judgment, lest it become biased. Just as the Catholic Church claimed that women are inferior, it also claimed that slaves are “naturally” subordinate, and it continued this teaching until the late 19th century.

    Regarding women’s ministry, the obstacle that prevents them from being ordained is still their sex: They are equal in dignity to men, it is now stated, but they must be excluded from priesthood because they do not physically resemble the “Son of Man.”

    Apart from Scripture and tradition, reason is a third source of theological judgment. Clearly, the exclusion of women from ministry cannot be justified by science, theology or ethics. The church has now embraced the framework of human rights. But human rights are women’s rights, too. They rest upon the theological reasoning that dignity has been endowed to every human being by God. It is impossible to argue for dignity and human rights of women in the church and still limit certain rights to one’s sex.

    Finally, the experiences of the faithful must also be considered. After the Second Vatican Council, Wijngaards recalls, many Catholics expected that ministries would soon be reorganized to match reforms, especially the understanding of sacramentality.

    Wijngaards left the priesthood because of the church’s teaching on sexuality, and from then on, dedicated his work to the equal rights of women in the church. In the book, he quotes from letters he has received over the years as well as recalling the experiences of women religious who work in Christian communities in the absence of priests. They all lament the full recognition of women’s ministry.

    Wijngaards’ book encourages Catholics to seriously engage with their faith. He provides readers with theological reflections that recalibrate a faith tradition that is at risk of losing its core mission: to remember the words and deeds of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and then to go and do as Jesus taught.

    Christians believe that they walk in the presence of the Spirit who, as Wijngaards reminds them, accompanies them throughout history. The Spirit-advocate assists the faithful in discerning their judgments when faced with new challenges.

    If the Eucharist is to be held in memory of the son of a human who is, at the same time, the Son of God, the church must stop being fixated on gender: Jesus’ gender or, for that matter, the apostles’ gender, is not a special gift.

    Likewise, the church must stop regarding women’s gender as a flaw. This narrowing of one’s perspective is “traditionalist” in all the wrong ways: It contradicts rather than reflects the sources of theological judgment that ought to inform the tradition. By manipulating the reading of Scripture, dismissing reason and disrespecting the experience of the sense of the faithful, the Vatican has returned to a tradition that is undeniably part of its history.

    Women are capable and needed as ministers. The church can, at any time, return to the praxis of the first centuries, ordain women as deacons and ordain women as priests, whether in extraordinary or regular circumstances.

    Independent of whether one follows this conclusion or not, the book is a valuable source for anyone interested in learning about theological reasoning and discerning women’s ministry in the church.

    [Hille Haker holds the Richard McCormick Endowed Chair for Theological Ethics at Loyola University Chicago.]

    — Declan Coyle Director Andec Communications Tel: + 353 1 280 7299 Mobile: +353 87 2997818 Email: declan@andec.ie Website: http://www.thegreenplatform.com

    Andec Communications Ltd Registered in Dublin, Ireland Registration No: 161 497

    IMPORTANT: The information contained in this email message is CONFIDENTIAL. If you receive this email in error, please destroy all pages immediately and contact the sender, declan@andec.ie or telephone + 353 (0)1 280 7299. If you are not the intended recipient, the use, distribution or copying of this documentation is strictly prohibited.

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  3. Since Pope Francis is wading into healthcare issues, there is a particularly interesting, yet almost undiscussed aspect of the Covid shutdowns that he might have the boldness to look into: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

    CDC statistics have shown a drop of 200 infant deaths PER WEEK during the lockdown last Spring. This was rather remarkable, a reduction from an average of 700 infant deaths, to 500 infant deaths, per week. The link below:

    https://childrenshealthdefense.org/news/lessons-from-the-lockdown-why-are-so-many-fewer-children-dying/

    “One group of doctors who might see 3 cases of SIDS in a typical week has seen zero cases since the pandemic and associated lockdowns began.”

    “Deaths in infants and children occur at a higher rate in minority groups. [4] So the reduction in childhood deaths during the lockdowns has meant that the lives of black and Hispanic infants and children have been saved at a higher rate.”

    Infant death is not a topic of much interest to the media, but for parents, for grandparents and families… being spared 200 devastating heartbreaks per week, would be a huge thing

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