Is God really with us?

Francis D. Alvarez S.J. (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2020 - 12:00am

“Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

“God is with us.” This has been a staple theme in many homilies during the pandemic. I have uttered these words more than a few times myself in wake Masses livestreamed from our seminary. But lately, I have begun to feel that they are gasgas na. Is it because of the frequency of repetition that they have started to sound empty? Or is it because my hopes for a speedy resolution to this crisis have been dashed so often? Ako’y nagalos na. 

In our Gospel today, Jesus’ disciples “worshiped, but they doubted” (Matthew 28:17). God allows us to come to him with our questions. Maybe this is one of the best compliments we can pay him – to bring to him our misgivings and uncertainties. Taking my cue from the earliest followers of Jesus, I would like to ask, “Is God really with us?”

If God is really with us, why is the coronavirus still running amok? Why are people still getting sick and dying? Why are the loved ones who survive them not even allowed to grieve? A family we said Mass for lamented the painful memory of their patriarch driving alone to the hospital once he suspected he had the virus. He was already weak, but he forced himself to get behind the wheel because he was afraid of infecting anyone else. The next time his children saw him, he was already in an urn delivered by Lalamove. Why don’t people even have the chance to properly mourn the dead? And why is it getting harder and harder to live? Workers are losing their jobs, their savings are getting drained, and they are drowning in debt. Why is the vaccine taking so long? Is God really with us?

Maybe it is my impatience that leads to skepticism. Or maybe it is my narrowness of mind and smallness of heart. I worship, but I doubt. Can God somehow receive my doubt as part of my worship?

In my calmer moments, I remind myself that God being with us does not mean that our problems will automatically be solved. God being with us should not be equated with instant remedies and miraculous cures.

So what does God being with us mean? Just that. God is with us; we are not alone. In our trials, he walks with us. Our burdens, he helps us carry. He bears us on his shoulders. I can keep on supplying niceties, but though they might make you feel warm and fuzzy, what use are they when your bank accounts dip below the minimum maintaining balance, when your credit card payments are due, and when the ashes of your loved ones are still in your living room waiting to be laid to rest? God is with us – is that enough?

When I start doubting, I am grateful that I am a priest who still has to lead others in worship. I am thankful that God still entrusts me with sheep. Or maybe, it is more accurate to say that God entrusts me to sheep. This is because many times, the people I try to serve are the ones who shepherd me.

“God is with us – is that enough?” I asked this very question to a group of elderly women I have been praying with online. They who are more vulnerable to this virus answered: “Is that enough? We have been attending virtual wake Mass after virtual wake Mass for friends who have died. With every Mass, we are getting more and more afraid – we could be next! Our businesses are bleeding. We have dipped into funds we were reserving for our twilight years. We have tried to keep paying our employees, but we also know we cannot sustain this for much longer. Our children feel financially unstable. We haven’t embraced our grandchildren since the lockdown was imposed. Is God being with us enough? It’s more than enough!”

Today is the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus tells us, “I am with you always,” but then he goes up to the Father. This though is not abandonment. We may not be able to experience him as his disciples did during his earthly ministry, but his Ascension opens up new possibilities of being with him. Next week, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we can be with Jesus through the Advocate. We can be with Jesus in the Eucharist – even if all we can have is spiritual Communion. We can be with Jesus through Scripture, prayer, and the people he sends to us. Even in our anxiety, fear, and doubt, we can be with Jesus. We just have to be patient, widen our minds, and make space in our hearts,

How have you experienced Jesus the past few weeks? If you are having difficulty pinpointing instances, bring your doubts as you worship him. But the next time his presence is made real to you, ask yourself, “Is this enough?” May we be able to answer like the titas and lolas through whom I met Jesus.

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