“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” St Peter states his commitment to Jesus in bold words – but he fails to follow-through with his actions. Later, he will have a chance to make amends.
Each year, we hear the Passion and remember what Our Lord did for us.
Never, since the Second World War, have so many of us faced a daily decision like the one Christ faced in the Garden of Gethsemane – and the one which Peter faced a few hours later.
For most of us, it’s a daily decision to be humble, stay home and distance ourselves from other people.
For some of us, it’s a question of discerning what true love requires: self-protection, or putting ourselves at the service of others as community volunteers.
For a few of us, who work in health and social care or essential retail, it’s a daily decision to expose ourselves to the risk of infection, regardless of the possible consequences for our families.
Our Lord knew that He was likely to be executed for provoking the Jewish and Roman authorities. In His humanity, He probably didn’t know the details of what would happen to Him, but He did know it would be painful, and have consequences for his loved ones.
The decisions we face are less certain. We can’t know in advance whether catching covid-19 will be like a bad cold or something much worse. For healthy children, it’s almost guaranteed to be mild. For younger adults without health conditions, the risk is small – but not zero. If we take sensible precautions, every contact with another person represents only a tiny risk – but it’s still a gamble. And then there’s the longer term question – how long will it take scientists to come up with a vaccine? Until there’s a vaccine, we can expect to live in a world where survivors with natural immunity are allowed more freedom – meaning that over the coming months, the outbreak will be managed by allowing all the younger members of the population to catch it, but at a controlled rate.
Moral decisions are seldom easy to make, but they’re especially difficult when we’re victims of forces beyond our control. Even if we seal ourselves in a bubble, we have some moral responsibility for those outside the bubble – people who must who take risks to supply us with food. As long as we follow all the hygiene advice given to us, we won’t be morally responsible if, despite that, we catch or spread this virus.
My heart goes out to every Christian doctor, nurse and healthcare worker who has to balance their duty to their patients and their care for their family. Today we celebrate the great act of love of Jesus Christ who died for us while we were still sinners, not yet joined to God’s family. Belonging to a family doesn’t exempt us from the Christian duty to love the most needy members of society. The words of Isaiah today, that the suffering servant did not cover his face from insults and spittle, take on a deeper meaning for those workers who must expose themselves to the spittle of strangers. Being a single parent, or sharing a home with a person who is vulnerable because of age or some underlying health condition, changes the weight of possible consequences.
Past generations were tested on their love for God. The Romans forced Christians to burn incense to the Emperor. King Henry VIII’s officials forced faithful Catholics to attend Anglican worship or suffer the consequences. Our generation is being tested on our willingness to love our neighbours – those who live in our own homes, those next-door and those we come alongside because of our personal vocations. Ultimately, I cant tell any of you what decision is right for your own mix of responsibilities, but I do share with you the words of Vineyard preacher John Wimber, who often said that faith is spelled R.I.S.K. – not love, but faith.
Next Sunday, Easter Sunday, we will be called to profess our faith and renounce the devil. We will proclaim that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. As we make decisions now, we do so knowing that if we lay down our life in the service of others, a glorious reward awaits us. That was the knowledge which enabled St Gianna Molla, herself a doctor, to risk her own life to protect her unborn daughter. That was the knowledge which compelled St Giuseppe Moscati to exhaust himself with a celibate life of attending Mass and caring for his patients without taking payment from the poor, until he died unexpectedly at the age of 46.
Today’s Scripture encourages us to listen like a disciple and to reply like a disciple. Just as there are many different kinds of saints, so there are many different callings upon us at this time. Some of us will be called to stay home, for the sake of the vulnerable companions with whom we live. Others will be called to take the risk of serving people in need, and a few of us will be called to minister to those with the symptoms of covid-19 – though we can and should use the equipment provided to shield ourselves from insult and spittle insofar as this is possible!
Each one of us must discern, prayerfully, what is right – and the great sign will be peace. The enemy will come to sow fear in our minds about possible consequences. Even Jesus wept tears of blood in his anguish. But here is the difference: while our minds will recognise the dangers, and be apprehensive, there will be a peace in our soul about doing the right thing – the thing that God is asking of me, in my mix of family and public duties. One of the sons of Zebedee was the first apostle to die for Christ; the other lived to a ripe old age and died a natural death. So, following the example of St Ignatius of Loyola, let us abandon ourselves to God’s will, and then, after a few days of meditation, see which choice brings us lasting peace.
What we are facing is nothing unusual. For the last 75 years, we in the West have enjoyed a lifestyle largely free from having to make daily decisions with life-and-death consequences. For most of human history, and still today in many developing countries, these decisions have been part of daily life. As confirmed Christians, as soldiers for Christ, we too now have to make battlefield decisions.
“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” St Peter learned, eventually, what it meant to be faithful to Jesus. May the Lord speak clearly to our hearts and help us to choose rightly and be at peace. May the peace of the Lord be with you always.