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The Fourth Sunday of Lent
during the coronavirus pandemic
March 22, 2020

Click here to watch the video


    I hope many of you had the opportunity to share in Archbishop Etienne’s Mass from the Cathedral chapel earlier this morning.  There’s nothing that draws us more closely together as the Body of Christ than the Eucharist.  And that’s true even at times like this when we’re not able to actually receive the Eucharist.

      This morning, rather than celebrate another Mass, I just want to be together with you in prayer and to reflect a little with you on what we are all experiencing in these days that are unlike any we’ve ever experienced.  I’m going to use the gospel for this fourth Sunday of Lent as the framework for our prayer, and wasn’t it great to have it read by those wonderful young people – all in the same family!

     But first let me say how much I wish we could all be together in the Cathedral right now and how much I miss seeing you.  Being quarantined is no fun, is it! I feel a bit like a caged lion! But at least I know I’m in good company – the company of all our senior parishioners, for starters, and there’s quite an army of us! Even so, social beings that we are, we’re not meant to be in isolation.  So my heart goes out especially to those of you who live alone.  I hope you have family or friends who are looking out for you and checking in with you, and if you don’t, I hope you’ll let us know at the parish so we can find someone to reach out to you and make sure you’re all right.


     Wasn’t it great to have that gospel story read by those wonderful young people – all in the same family, by the way! It’s a familiar story and a powerful one, and one I’ve preached on year after year, but this year it put me in mind of a conversation I had not long ago with a woman who shared with me her strong conviction that this Coronavirus pandemic is God’s punishment on a wicked world for all of its sins, for all of our sins.  She told me that God is telling us to repent or perish. I did my best to hear what she was saying and then, as gently as I could, I tried to help her see that that’s not the God I believe in; nor is it the God Jesus came to reveal.

     I think the gospel story of the man born blind makes that point. In the story, Jesus’ disciples were coming from the same place as that woman when they asked him whose sin was responsible for the man’s blindness – his own or his parents.  Jesus’ response is very telling: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God may be made manifest in him.”

     I think those words of Jesus can help us understand what is going on in our world right now, and they are a far better answer than the one my woman friend suggested.  But how in the world are “the works of God” to be made manifest by this awful scourge , this out-of-control pandemic, that seems to be bringing our world and our personal lives to a standstill?

     Maybe it will help if we first reflect on just what are ‘the works of God? The works of God are many and wondrous. They are all around us, of course, but in the story of the healing of the man born blind, the works of God that stand out  are things like compassion, healing, mercy, and love. In giving the man his sight after a lifetime of living in the dark, Jesus was doing the works of God, he was showing forth – manifesting – the merciful, compassionate face of a loving God.

     Back to my conversation with that woman. In the few minutes we had to speak, I did  my best to open her eyes to a different way of viewing the unfolding crisis of the Coronavirus, to help her see that the works of God – compassion, healing, mercy, and love – are being made manifest in the response of so many in our world right now. So many!
I think, for instance, of the people in the medical profession – doctors, nurses, technicians – many of whom are daily and unselfishly putting their own lives at risk in order to care for the victims of the virus. They are doing the works of God. God is being made manifest by their compassion and love.

     I think of the people in the scientific community who are racing against the clock, using every ounce of their scientific skill, to develop a vaccine. They are doing the works of God.

     I think of first-responders who are daily and bravely putting the public health and safety ahead of their own health and safety. They are doing the works of God.
And so are unsung heroes like clerks in our grocery stores, bus drivers, pharmacists, mail carriers, and so many others who are working through this crisis without the luxury of being able to work from home.

     And then there are all of you parents who are doing everything you can during this trying time to reassure, encourage, and explain all this to your kids – when maybe you yourselves could use some reassuring and encouraging. Don’t sell yourselves short: you are doing the works of God.

     And so are our elected officials, many of whom are working to pass legislation that will lessen the devastating effect that this pandemic is having on the social and economic fabric of our country and of the whole world, but especially on the lives of the poor, the poor who are always the ones to suffer the most.

     The list could go on. In each case I have cited, the works of God – compassion, healing, mercy, love – are being made manifest in much the same way as Jesus manifested them when he healed the man born blind.

     And, my friends, we are called to manifest those same works of God.  We are. This moment we find ourselves in – scary and difficult as it is – is full of opportunities for us to manifest the mercy and compassion of God.

  •  We do so when we take time to check on an elderly family member, neighbor, friend, or even stranger – and maybe provide a meal, a word of encouragement, a phone call.

  •  We do so when we are scrupulous in observing all the important precautions regarding personal hygiene, social distancing – doing everything we can not to put ourselves or others at risk of exposure.

  •  We also manifest the mercy, compassion, and love of God in our prayer for the victims of the virus and their families, for doctors and nurses and first responders, and for each other, especially those who are lonely and isolated, and those who have lost their jobs, their security, their very livelihood.

  •  And when we pray, too, for employers who have had to make the agonizing but unavoidable decision to lay off employees;

  •  and when we pray for and lobby our elected leaders, that they will not allow partisan politics to keep them from passing legislation that will quickly bring relief to those who need it most.

     My friends, I hope you will agree with me that the question today is not, ‘whose sin was it that this should have happened?’  No, the question is what is it that I can do to manifest the works of God, to show the compassionate, merciful, loving face of God to as many as possible!

     May the week ahead open our eyes to as many of those opportunities as possible, and may we hold each other in prayer and in love.  And please know that you are uppermost in my mind and my prayers these days and that I will be grateful for your prayers!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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