By Fr. John Jonah A. Orat
Dan Angelus was the only son of the richest family of the whole region. A rich beautiful young woman, Janella Jane, fell in love with him. Their parents were very agreeable to the pair. It was good as done. A perfect match. They got acquainted very easily.
When the time for betrothal came, Dan Angelus begged off. “Why?” JJ asked. “Because I already love somebody.” “She must be more beautiful than I am?” “Not at all. You are far more beautiful than she.” “She must come from a very rich family.” “No, she is only a daughter of our kitchen maid.” “And you love her?” “Yes.” “Even if your father will disinherit you?” “Yes.” W-H-A-T ?
JJ stared at Dan Angelus, unbelieving, and saw he was totally honest. She said, “For a love like yours, I would willingly give up all of my inheritance.” Wow!
My dear Philemon, “Love, indeed, means giving up something you treasure so much in order to get that “pearl of great price.” What JJ stated did not only strike a chord in my heart, it pierced a blade through it.” Because to love is to give yourself away, to offer yourself and to sacrifice yourself for the happiness of your loved one, to forsake all other possibilities in order to be true to the one who owns your heart. To possess and to be possessed. And I am not talking about a woman. I am talking about my love relationship with God. Whew!
To leave everything behind in order to follow him is my “Ordination Promise of Love.” That sums up my vocation to be the another Christ in this turbulent and tumultuous world. With all honesty, I have not been able to leave everything behind, yes, some, but not all. And now, in the time of Corona, how would I have imagined that following him would become even so much harder.
Where lives are at stake, it is a natural inclination to preserve ourselves. During the Roman persecution of the early Christians, they did not really present themselves to be killed, mauled, murdered, eaten by lions, burnt at the stake… They hid themselves to live for another day. The Holy Eucharist was held in secret. Only the baptized knew what all that was about. It was a big big secret which could mean life and death. To others, we were cannibals eating the flesh and blood of a human being. Beware! To be exposed as a Christian meant imminent extermination.
The Holy Eucharist was a “Memento Mori,” a remembrance of the death of our Lord that he commanded us to commemorate. It is not a celebration of the priest. The main actor is Jesus Christ himself who died for us. Not so many of his followers were there at Golgotha. His mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and the disciple John were there but that Sacrifice was for all of us, whether we were there at that skull mountain or not.
And so it is that some Catholics were aghast when, all over the world, the leadership of the Church mandated that Holy Masses to be celebrated “sine populo” or without a congregation. It is understandable. They have been used to it and it is an expression of their faithfulness, devotion and dedication. This is not to be downplayed. This is perfectly valid, edifying and sanctifying.
However, these are dangerous times calling for unusual but legitimate decisions from our religious authorities who are responsible for our safety, security and spiritual well-being. Otherwise we will be exposing ourselves unnecessarily into mortal danger. At least 28 priests have died in dioceses surrounding Milan, Italy because of the Corona virus. We hope and pray that not any one of us, or not any one priest, will die because of it.
But this is for us to remember: every Mass celebrated, albeit privately, by a priest is never a private Mass. It is an act of Christ and an act of his Church. It is not the same as a prayer meeting or a religious assembly or a worship service. It is the Sacrifice of the Cross reenacted in an unbloody manner for the salvation of the whole world. It benefits all of us whether we are present during the celebration of the Mass or not.
I would never for the life of me could have ever imagined that priests will be celebrating the Holy Mass all over the world sine populo through social media. But we do have the obligation to preserve ourselves in order to be able to live another day. So many died during the early church. But they did not court death. Death hunted them down.
Our Lord too did not court death. He himself avoided it, eluded arrest, fled from those who wanted to kill him because the time was not yet right. St. Paul already wanted to die to be with Christ but his time was not yet come because there were still things that he had to do. [Phil 1:23-24].
It is our “Memento Mori: To live without God and his sacraments. Santa Rosa cried when the devil tormented her “that the God she loves with all her heart no longer loved her.” It is like “living for love and then your love leaves you! It is the crucible of our faith. It is the prodigal son weighing the odds to return to his father, it is each and every one of us fighting our demons. It is the dark night of the soul. It is to be reminded that to follow Christ we have to die to ourself.
From the ending scene of Jesus Christ Superstar shown at the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepcion last March 13, 2020: The dead body of Jesus was already taken down from the cross. Nobody is left. Everybody is gone. Then Mary Magdalene comes. She hugs the bare cross so very very tightly, and she wails, heart-piercing lamentations that made my skin quiver, because her beloved was no more, the one that she gave up everything in her life for, the one who completely changed her life… was dead.
“I don’t know how to love him,” she sings. “What to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes really changed. In these past few days, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else.” For love like the Lord’s, Mary Magdalene willingly gave up everything. BUT NOW HER LOVE IS GONE.
The good news will come in three days. Love still will conquer all. The corona virus will pass and we will CELEBRATE the Holy Mass with the congregation once more and what a joyful celebration it will be.
It will be a MEMENTO VITAE.