April 17, 2020 - A few weeks ago, I received the news that due to the coronavirus, my entire program was going to be cut short. So my plans, my hopes, and my dreams for this important year were ruined; this once in a lifetime opportunity was being changed. I was disappointed and upset but felt I could not be too upset because many, many people had it worse than me. Maybe they had lost something way more significant, or worse, they had lost a loved one. Or maybe, just maybe, they had contracted the virus.
But still there was a sense of disillusionment, of disappointment about what had happened to me. What was I to do with that? Well, for better or worse, this all happened during Lent—a time for penance and prayer, but often enough a time to give something up. And all this led to this past weekend, Easter. But right before that, we had the Triduum, the three days of remembering and celebrating the Paschal Mystery, the dynamic of Jesus’ dying and rising. How he goes into the tomb and comes out resurrected. A time of transformation. A time of new beginning.
Right before Easter, I was fortunate to have time to make a Silent Retreat. I went into the retreat hoping to find some closure, some peace about my missionary experience at a refugee camp ending abruptly, and then shortly thereafter, my whole special one-year program of formation being cut short and having to finish the last part of it virtually. During this time of retreat and during the Triduum, I was able to have an experience of the Paschal Mystery. I was able to let my expectations, my hopes, and my dreams die, if you will, with Christ on the Cross. I was able to bring all that into the tomb. With the help of Christ, I was then able to rise to new opportunities, new plans, and new realities that were available to me. I was able to come out of the tomb and resurrect; I was able to find joy and peace. I was able to embrace a new mission, a new program.
See, I am a physical therapist as well as a Jesuit priest. My religious order has a nursing home and assisted living facility for some of our senior members, and for their safety and in keeping with civil restrictions, the P.T. staff was no longer able to come into the facility. But, because I was back early and my schedule was free and open, I was able to move in with them and provide them with the care that they need. This was not something I ever thought I would be doing this year, much less at this point in my life. But here I am, and I feel good about it. And so this is how I have experienced the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising with Christ, the taking things to the tomb and letting them be resurrected during this pandemic. And so maybe, just maybe, you have had your Paschal Mystery moment—but maybe you are still waiting for it.
So, I invite you to spend some time asking yourself: What do I need to die to? What do I need to take to the tomb? What helps me rise? What helps me resurrect my situation? Maybe like me, yours has to do with a program, but maybe it has to do with something more serious, and maybe it has to do specifically with dealing with the virus, or maybe it tragically has to do directly with a death caused by it. Whatever your experience is of COVID-19, bring it to Jesus, and see what type of encounter Christ has for you.
Fr. Robert Murphy, SJ, is a Jesuit priest currently residing in St. Louis and a member of the TEC Conference Spirituality Ministry Team. This essay originally appeared on the TEC Conference website.