Lenten Pastoral Letter 2022 Blessings Under the Pandemic – Loving Beyond Ourselves Through Adversity
As I am drafting this Lenten Pastoral Letter, Hong Kong is reported to have reached a new record of over 6,000 confirmed positive Covid-19 cases. The highest level so far, and the number is expected to increase substantially. Due to the government’s new measures to curtail social interactions, we had announced a temporary closure of all churches and chapels used for public worships for a while. It was advised not even to conduct online Mass at these venues. Regrettably, this was our first time to adopt such a stringent approach.
I was the one to authorize the announcement through the Chancellor’s office, yet my heart was heavy with it. I could feel the disappointment of many sisters and brothers who could not pray in the soothing tranquillity of their churches or before the Blessed Sacrament during such a worrisome time. However, I could also feel the mounting anxiety with a deepening sense of helplessness in the people around me. When would this come to an end? When could we reclaim our ‘normal’ lives back, if ever!
The temptations are to blame God for not helping to stop the pandemic, to let ourselves be in despair, or to wait helplessly for the worst to happen since we could not neutralize this exasperating outbreak. What alternatives do we have if not giving in to these temptations mentioned above?
The scriptural passage chosen for this year’s Lenten Message of the Holy Father is: “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity [kairós], let us do good to all” [Galatians 6:9-10]. What harvest? The harvest promised to us after this life is an eternal reward from the Spirit [Galatians 6:8] that goes beyond our imagination and understanding. If not for this promise, our prospect of the future may well be very grim. Moreover, the possibility of being pounded by further pandemics cannot be ignored either. Yet, the promise of an eternal harvest can give us hope and energy to navigate the prolonged Covid storm, which is partially sustained by our fears, suspicions, selfishness, political motives…
Together with our hope for the promised harvest, our energy is to continue doing good. Helping our social community to come closer to each other while transcending our small ‘self’ for the large ‘Self,’ the common good—the Self that embraces the elderly, the infirm, the weak, and the poor. When Hong Kong has a good number of its elderly population yet to be vaccinated against Covid, when many have become jobless, and the dying are left to depart without their accompanying loved ones, how can we help people regain hope and dignity?
Besides the government, we are called by our Lord to do good towards our neighbours. We render them the essential protection, assistance, and hope: – By having ourselves vaccinated against Covid, provided no medical advice prevents us. – By encouraging more elderly to receive the vaccination if their health conditions permit them. – By following good hygiene practices, including proper use of masks and sanitisers. – By providing spiritual, emotional, and material support to ‘neighbours’ in need. – By visiting and affording physical accompaniment to those who are lonely and struggling.
I am also calling on our government to provide more humanitarian options for those elderly ‘sheltered’ at homes for the aged and those seriously ill in hospitals when the current wave of Covid eases its grip, so that they are not left alone and could be visited by their loved ones in person. The government policies protect them with physical isolation. Still, their mental and psychological well-being has deteriorated significantly, as they have been isolated from their loved ones for the last two years. Whatever good we can do for them, let us do it with generosity and love. Lent is the time for in-depth reflection on our own darkness and sinful tendencies. Yet, we should know that God loves us in the first place. We are sinners yet deeply loved by God. It is with this understanding that we can have trusting faith for our repentance and metanoia, greater hope for a better world for our ‘self’ and the ‘Self’ leading to an eschatological harvest, and untiring love to do good to our neighbours, especially during this deeply distressing time. Although we may not be able to receive ashes on this Ash Wednesday during the pandemic, we will be living in the Lenten spirit of conversion—Loving beyond ourselves through adversity. Finally, Lent is a time calling us to prayer. We pray for our own conversion, that of our Church, our beloved Hong Kong as one community, our country, and the entire world. We do not know when this pandemic will be over. Nevertheless, we can do our best to do good and introduce the love of God to more sectors in Hong Kong, especially those who are neglected or vulnerable. We pray that the pandemic, an apparent tragedy, will end with blessings in disguise. Let us not underestimate the power of prayers. And let us not lose hope in the efforts of the Holy Spirit through us!