When Life Throws You a Pandemic

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


When you’re new at something, you can expect to feel completely unprepared and inadequate to the task, which you probably are. But I tell new altar servers and Eucharistic Ministers all the time. “Move slowly and confidently. Pretend you know what you’re doing. Nobody else does.” The important thing is making it believable. And you know you’re successful when nobody notices. That’s what I do all the time. Well, not anymore. I was sent on my first assignment after ordination to an all-boys Catholic high school in New Orleans. The week I arrived I answered the door at the residence. An older gentleman asked to see a priest for confession. I was not aware people did that, rang the doorbell to request confession. I expected they would come to church when I’m in a “confession” frame of mind. So, in a panic I told him, “Wait here. Let me find somebody.” Then I asked an older priest to cover for me. He smiled and said, “No problem. I’ve been where you are. And you’ll do just fine the next time.”

I don’t remember my first, but it’s not as scary anymore. So, when people come to confession for the first time or the ten-thousandth time, whether they’re children or adults, I can assure them they’ll do just fine. I don’t think I’ve scared anybody away yet. But I remember going to confession as a teenager and being made to feel worse than I already felt. It took me a while before I returned. And I resolved I would do my best to never make anyone feel what I felt. Sometimes I do challenge people in confession to go deeper, make them think, especially when they’re accustomed to rattling a laundry list of faults. I try not to scare anyone away. But I also want to nudge them to be better still.

“Woe to me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” It appears Isaiah who was serving in the temple early in his career was unaccustomed to being visited by almighty God himself. I doubt the temple Manual of Emergency Procedures even had a chapter on “Heavenly Visions and Similar Trauma.” So naturally, Isaiah fell to pieces. But God had a plan. Funny how we only discover God’s plan when we finally admit we have no plan of our own. The urgency of God’s plan often determines whether we get to figure it out ourselves. For most of us, God doesn’t mind giving us that opportunity. And I am most grateful that moment arrives without needing a change of underwear.

The apostle Paul hints at his terrifying brush with God-on-a-mission by simply saying, “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” The details of his vision can be found elsewhere in the New Testament, so we know he wasn’t kidding. And did he feel unprepared and inadequate to the task? Absolutely. It took another 14 years of careful study before he traveled with Barnabas to Antioch, and from there to preach the gospel and establish Christian communities throughout the region.

The gospel tells a story of Jesus teaching a crowd at Gennesaret while sitting in a boat on the edge of the lake, while Simon, his brother Andrew, their partners James and John listened as they washed their nets. Jesus was making as much of an impression on them as the gentle waves upon the shore. So, he decided to up the ante. “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Imagine the looks that went around which I’m sure Jesus noticed. And Simon, exhausted and desperate, knowing they would be back out on the water later that evening anyway, surrenders his fisherman competence and expertise to a carpenter’s wild suggestion. “Sure. Why not? It might just be the sign we should all retire and do something else for a living.” And when it hit him, Simon knew his life was taking a turn. Despite being an expert fisherman, he listened to advice from a carpenter. Something awesome was up. He would stick with Jesus from now on.

I have great admiration for all the amazing people, the parents, schoolteachers, medical professionals, small business owners, volunteers, teenagers, even pastors, who bravely jumped on the opportunity these last two years to explore creative new ways to make a difference and silence those who have done nothing but whine and complain. First sit down and admit you have no plan. Then get out of the way of those who do. If God indeed has a plan for how to fix this mess, scripture has shown us a few times he grabs those willing to admit they have no plan and shows them how it’s done.

There are those who fold in the face of crisis, who broadcast their suffering aloud and in graphic detail, and how others have wronged them beyond measure. And there are those who listen attentively for God’s instructions and act on it without fanfare or hysterics. Because all that drama announces is you’re exhausted and frustrated and you have no plan, which the rest of us kind of picked up on sooner than you think.

“See, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged. Go, proclaim God’s mercy. Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching souls.” So, here’s the plan. When life throws you a curve, a crisis, a pandemic even, sit still and quiet for a spell, and listen attentively for God’s voice, and act on what God asks without fanfare or hysterics. Don’t be afraid. Move slowly but confidently. No one else really knows what you’re doing. And if you can’t do that, if you can’t stop whining and complaining, just do it somewhere else, and get out of the way.

Rolo B Castillo © 2022

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