Father Paul’s homily: Good Friday in the time of coronavirus

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Father Paul on Good Friday

Father Paul Koetter at a Scecina Good Friday Mass.

For several years, Father Paul Koetter has led Scecina’s Good Friday Mass. As Scecina cannot gather this Good Friday as a community, Father Paul provided his homily to share this year:

We are at an epic moment in history. Health crises have occurred before in the form of plagues and viruses, but this is the first time a world crisis has arisen. Because of world transportation, the coronavirus has spread to almost every country in the world.

And everyone’s life is different, and many of us live with the fear of the virus. I know two who have died and eight more who have the virus. One of our priests has tested positive, and he is 84 years old! And the physical limitations! We cannot be with each other; school attendance is out of the question, and even family gatherings are extremely limited. Does it feel weird? It certainly does to me. Do you wonder how to walk this strange path? I do. Let’s talk about the CROSS that has been given to us to carry.

Good Friday is a somber day. We honor the courageous death of Jesus, the Christ. Filled with physical pain beyond description, Jesus had to cope with the abandonment of all his friends and hear Peter, his close friend, even deny that he knew him. Along with the physical separation and emotional separation from his closest companions, Jesus also was confronted by the emptiness in his heart for even the comforting presence of his heavenly Father was gone. This emptiness was described in his painful words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The experience of Good Friday for Jesus touches into our own experiences of the cross.

Experiences of pain

For some of us, our cross is physical pain, in particular, the people with the coronavirus who suffer from headaches, shortness of breath, stomach issues, and fevers. But there are many forms of physical pain. A good friend just shared the story with me of his 10-year-old niece who is battling a serious case of cancer. She is having radiation and chemotherapy at the same time, and all her hair is gone. My friend said it is tough on the little girl. Physical pain is the cross that many people, young or old, bear.

But another cross is emotional pain, which is often relational. Emotional pain can come through broken relationships or the inability to be with someone we care about. Right now, with the virus, we are so separated from each other. Family and friends have to keep their distance, and we can feel apart and lost at times. In other ways, we might experience the abandonment of friends as Jesus did. Maybe we were going through difficult times and the people we felt closest to never reached out? Or perhaps we were on the other side of the struggle, and we realized that we were the good friend who did not reach out to the one in need.

Another kind of cross is inner pain, which often goes undefined and perhaps never described. The pain can be feeling different from others and frustrated that we can’t seem to connect. Inner pain is sometimes the hardest pain to carry, and yet, we all carry some inner pain. Jesus carried inner pain, too.

It helps me to realize that Jesus carried physical, emotional, and spiritual pain on Good Friday. He knows what it feels like! And when I am in those moments of pain, I know he is with me.

Carry our cross

How do we carry our cross? We can try to ignore it; we can try to run from it; we can get angry at God for giving us this particular cross; we can just get bitter. But there is another path. We can tackle our cross with Faith, Hope, and Love. These three Christian virtues can carry us through any cross.

We start with Faith. What do we believe and who do we believe in? Sometimes we just need to name it.
Do I believe in God as a loving Father?
Do I believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord?
Do I believe in the Presence of God’s Spirit in our world today?
Do I believe there is more to life than just the physical world?
Do I believe I am challenged each day to follow Christ’s call to serve others?

Students at Good Friday

Scecina students venerate the cross at the 2019 Good Friday service.

I have always been struck by how much work it takes to build a foundation before you start to build above ground. Whether it is a new house or a new skyscraper, the foundation is critical. If you said “yes” to the faith questions, then you have a foundation. If you were not sure, maybe your call is to dig deeper. We might find that God is being revealed in the goodness of people around me. He is with us in them!

Faith is followed by Hope. Hope occurs when I allow my faith to pull me into the future. So often the cross that we carry can overwhelm us and we can lose any sense of hope. But we have reason to hope! Hope is grounded in our belief in God as one who loves us and cares for us. If I allow my hope to be grounded in God, then that hope can never be taken from me!

Hope can be hard when the Cross is very heavy. We can feel lost in the present moment of the pain, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. When that occurs, do not give up. Hope is not based upon our pain; it is based upon God’s strength to carry me through the pain to a better day.

So Faith is our foundation; Hope gives us a vision for the future; Love is what guides us each day.

Live with love

Love is not about the past or about the future. Love is about right here, right now. Being a loving person is my call today and every day. A friend of mine is suffering from a terminal illness. She has chosen as her daily theme: “Live each day with love, not fear.” Her illness could cause a natural fear and I’m sure she feels that fear at times. But she consciously chooses not to focus upon the fear. Rather, she focuses on love.

Jesus’ life is filled with this example of focusing upon love of another. The Cross of Calvary was a natural conclusion to a life of love and service for others in need. He gave of himself for others.

My friends, a different Lent was given to us with the coronavirus. We all are carrying a similar Cross. Let us keep our faith alive; let us keep hope in our hearts; and let us live this day, and every day, with love for others. God Bless You!

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