A couple months ago, my husband and I watched an insightful movie called A Quiet Place. It features a strange time in which mysterious deadly creatures devour any soul who makes a sound. As a result, no one goes outside without risk, and everyone tip-toes quietly, keeping a safe distance from others. Families shelter in their homes and try to make a new way of life for themselves—living in silence, as if the monastic way of life suddenly became necessary for survival.
In an interesting turn of events, the global coronavirus has brought us into a kind of forced monasticism. We cannot continue in our normal way of life, both with its great goods, as well as its busyness and distractions. We are forced to withdraw from the world in a radical way. With human eyes, it is a global disaster. With the eyes of faith, perhaps it is necessary for spiritual survival.
In the Gospel today, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. There are many perplexing things about this Gospel, the first of which is that Jesus received a message that Lazarus was ill, but he deliberately waited “two more days” before visiting the family (Jn 11:6). In other words, he chose to allow Lazarus to suffer the illness, and even to die from it, not out of cruelty—indeed Lazarus was “the one whom you love,” (Jn 11:3)—but rather, “for God’s glory” (11:4).
The raising of Lazarus is the last of the seven “signs” in John’s Gospel that manifest the divine glory. The resurrection points to the reality that we are not made for this present world. In a time when the fear of death is poignant, the Gospel reminds us that death is not the worst thing to fear. Indeed, the words of Christ echo the ancient words of Socrates: “it is easy to avoid death. It is far more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death” (Plato’s Apology).
“Quarantine” and “coronavirus” are today’s buzzwords, but I cannot help but think of their essentially Biblical meanings. “Quarantine,” from quaranta in Italian, means “40.” We are right now in the 40 days of Lent, the journey of trial—being in the desert, in a time of want, to deepen our intimacy with God. For mothers, there are new problems at every turn. My house, with lots of littles and their shrill cries, hardly seems “monastic.” But I think that what pleases God most of all is to maintain peace of heart. As in, “Lord, this seems crazy, but I trust you and surrender.”
“Corona” literally means “crown”—another deeply Biblical theme. St. Paul tells us that athletes race for a perishable crown that withers, “but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:25). Perhaps the onslaught of “corona” forces each one of us to withdraw from the world and ask ourselves: which crown do we seek? The perishable one, or the true crown of God’s Kingdom?