Despite the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, a devotee prays from a distance in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila. Christopher Toledo
Commentary: The global pandemic and our relationship with God
Jove Jim Aguas ( - April 12, 2020 - 12:59pm

Holy Week reflection

MANILA, Philippines — For the very first time in our life and in modern history we are commemorating the Holy Week in the confines of our homes and our only medium to participate in the religious activities is the social media or the television broadcast using our gadgets — smart phones, laptops, tablets or our television sets. 

We converge around our television sets or share our gadgets with our family members and make do of a small table or a stool with lighted candle and crucifix as our altar. Churches are almost empty with only the priest and Mass server and a few lay ministers and maybe a number of choir members all maintaining physical distance, celebrating the Holy Mass inside the church.

We content ourselves with receiving the Body of Christ through spiritual communion.

The view on our screens is both consoling and depressing. It is consoling because at least we can participate in the Holy Mass or in other religious activities spiritually, thanks to the internet and social media.

But at the same time it is depressing because there is no substitution to the actual and physical participation in the Holy Mass. There is no procession of “pasos” something that has been part not only of our religious commemoration but it is very much part of our culture and tradition.

The procession during Holy Week is not only a religious event, it is as much a part of our being Filipinos and how we express our religiosity. Many of us go home to our parishes or towns not only to commemorate the Holy Week but to be reunited with our family, and the “santo” or “santa” or “paso” that our family takes care is at the center of such reunion.  Now, that is gone.

I was watching the live streaming of the Holy Week activities in our parish in Bicol and although I felt nostalgic because at least I can still view the altar of our parish church, I was sad. I was sad to see an empty church, sad to see that there was no congregation and no procession with the people. I was sad to see that we have to content ourselves with watching the procession of the Holy Sacrament being held by our parish priest who was in a truck going around the poblacion following the usual route of the procession on Maundy Thursday.

The Crucifix was also processioned on Good Friday with the same set up. I think everybody experienced this heavy feeling, some may have even tears in their eyes. We will continue to feel this way until Easter Sunday.

Indeed, this disease and virus that caused this global pandemic have wrecked a havoc in our lives. This is unprecedented and unimaginable! But if there is something positive to all this chaos, fear and uncertainty is that this pandemic forces us to reflect on the most essential things in our life, on the things that matter most — our family, our job, our survival and health, the help of other people.

Now we realize the importance of being with our family and loved ones — to eat together, to play together, to bond together. Now it is important to be content with the relief packs offered by the government and be satisfied with the basic necessities. Now we realize the importance of our health and well-being. Now we recognize that we need the help and sacrifices of others especially those of our front liners.

But I think, there is something very providential in the way and time this pandemic happened. The crisis has somehow unfolded in a crescendo reaching its highest point during the Holy Week, a time when we are supposed not only to commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, but to reflect on our life and on our relationship with God.

There is one very essential matter in our life that this pandemic has forced us to focus on — our relationship with God.

Now, praying the Rosary as a family is important and has become a daily activity for most of us. Now, attending the Holy Mass even on television or on our gadgets has become a part of our schedule. Now, most messages on social media enjoin everybody to pray.

The pandemic has driven us back to the very ground of our being and existence — God; it has to some extent compelled us to reexamine our life and ourselves and our relationship with God.

But this leads us to a very important question, before this pandemic what were we doing? How was our life and our relationship with God? Or do we ever have a relationship with Him?

For a long time, we have been consumed with ourselves, with our own personal interests, with our own goals and ambitions, with our own achievements and successes. We have become full of ourselves and we thought that with our powers and abilities we can do it all. Who needs divine guidance and intervention? When we are doing fine there is no need to look up and pray for assistance. Most of the time, only those who are in dire situations look up and pray. When there is no food on the table we pray for food, but when food comes, most of the time, we hardly give thanks. Most people would pray for luck — win the lotto for example, but when luck strikes they forget to give thanks.

If we look back to the recent past in our human history, we can say that man has achieved a lot — in science and technology, in economics and commerce. We have reached the moon and continue to explore the universe. We can travel around the globe in matter of hours; we can communicate with anybody around the world in matter of seconds through our gadgets and fingertips. We can generate as much income and profit through online business transactions. We can enjoy a comfortable living in our homes or condo units through all the amenities that technology can offer. All these achievements have made human life easier and comfortable, convenient and efficient. 

These advancements have made man feel he can do anything and everything! Man felt entitled and privileged because he thinks that he accomplished and attained all these through his ow efforts, through his own reason and power.  Man has exceeded his own expectations of himself. Man can summon all his abilities and powers, all the positive traits and qualities that he has and he can make things happen.  Who knows what man can achieve in the future given all his powers and abilities? Indeed, the serpent in the Garden was right, man could be better as gods—and he feels like he is god. 

This god-feeling has created a new religion — an anthropocentric religion.  It is a religion with man as god. So who needs God? Man does not need Him anymore. If before man depends on God because he cannot do anything and that he is powerless against the forces of nature, now that he discovered and harnessed all his powers and abilities, there is no need for such God, because man discovered that he is like god. 

But lightning strikes in the form of this pandemic. And in an instant man realizes his limitations, his finitude and inadequacies, his powerlessness against the forces of nature. He is no better than God. He is not god! 

So, enough of this human pride because in the midst of our trials and tribulations although we are limited and powerless against the forces of nature, there is a God who never abandoned us despite our self-centeredness.  Yes, we can continue to develop our powers and abilities to improve our lives, but we should never forget our fundamental relationship with God.

Indeed, through the power of our intellect we were able to discover much of reality and invent or create new things. Yes, through science, we discover many aspects of reality but this reality has always been there even before us. God who is before us created all this. And yes, through our ingenuity we invent or create new things, but these things that we create are done through the things that God created for us.       

 As we look for a way to contain and eventually stop this pandemic, as we try to develop a vaccine that will finally cure this disease, we will surely rely on our human powers and abilities. This pandemic has made us realize that we are limited and also our human abilities and powers. But limited they may be, they are powers and abilities that God has given us and with His intervention we will find a way to stop this pandemic and eventually find a cure to this disease.

Hopefully our life will go back to normal and the next Holy Week will not be commemorated through the internet and our gadgets. Finally, I hope we will maintain our good relationship with God — until the next pandemic.

Jove Jim S. Aguas is a professor of philosophy and a faculty member of the Philosophy Department of the University of Santo Tomas

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