Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people”. (Mt 4:23)
As we begin the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Rabbit, this Sunday’s Gospel narrates the powerful inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 4:12-23): “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned”. We too wish to begin this new year with a ray of hope after all the challenges we have encountered in the past twelve months.
This Sunday is dedicated to the Word of God. As the New Year dawns, we do need God’s Word to reassure and guide us into an unpredictable future. Moreover, this being the Year of the Rabbit, an animal with long ears and a keen sense of hearing, we cannot but ask the Lord the Grace to be attentive listeners to His Word, which is not simply an ancient text or a wisdom from the past but a Person — Christ, alive and active in the Church and in the world, speaking into our hearts as well as through the events surrounding our lives.
Moments of crises are privileged times to hear Christ’s voice calling us, as He did with the first disciples: “Follow me!” we will read in the Gospel. Peter and Andrew were invited to find the purpose of their lives in serving others by establishing a living relationship with Jesus. The harshness of their fishing job and especially their empty nets, as recounted in other Gospels, helped them to pay heed to Jesus’ invitation. A famous quote of C.S. Lewis says: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain).
Unfortunately, in the past years we have learned that oftentimes even that megaphone is not enough for us to draw our attention to God. Originally, we had hoped that the moral lessons taught by the pandemic would help us to become better people and to build a better world, and indeed, countless brothers and sisters, both in the Church and in the society, have shown selfless love and care in many critical situations. On the other hand, vis-à-vis the discipline of adopting restrictive measures in order to protect others and the need to show solidarity to the most disadvantaged in the society, we have often seen human selfishness at its worse. The pandemic has truly revealed what we have in our hearts and where our priorities lie.
That is why, in the last verse of this Sunday’s Gospel, we read that beside “teaching and preaching”, Jesus cured our sicknesses and diseases. The teaching and proclamation of God’s Word is therapeutic: it causes our bodily and spiritual sicknesses to be exposed and addressed so that they may be healed.
Those of us who saw the infamous second red line appear on their RAT test and experienced severe Covid symptoms know well how debilitating a sickness can be. In the past months, the social effects of the pandemic on the larger society were also felt: hospitals, shops, and supply lines were all disrupted by such a large number of infections. My prayers go to those who were unable to be with family members who died alone in hospitals or in elderly homes due to strict isolation regulations. We are indeed in need of both bodily and social healing.
At the same time, we need to be more sensitive to the “sicknesses of souls” and their symptoms because our hearts and minds need healing too. Not by chance the Church calls the powerful negative forces behind many of our selfish choices “deadly sins”: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth. These, if unattended, can indeed ruin one’s life and that of the people around us. Let’s be honest: these “sicknesses of the soul” have played an important role in many of the personal and social disasters caused by the pandemic. Now it’s time to face these inner ailments more directly, without blaming only external forces as the cause of our problems.
We begin the New Year of the Rabbit hoping in an open post-Covid world. Jesus accompanies us by teaching and proclaiming the Good News of God’s love and its healing power for us, so that in this new year we might make healthier choices for us, our families and the society at large. If we use well our inner hearing and become careful listeners — kind of “spiritual rabbits!” —- once healed, we too can become, like Jesus, teachers and proclaimers of a future of hope and agents of healing for a recovering world.