At the end of 2019, I learned that in the city of Wuhan in China a new form of coronavirus, called Covid-19, had appeared. At that time, who could have imagined the impact this would have on the lives of 7.7 billion people on earth in the weeks to come? Like a wildfire, the virus has spread across the planet. By March 2020, no continent was spared. The virus was moving fast: South Korea, Iran, Italy, France. Everywhere, measures were taken to limit the spread of the virus.
Here in Montreal, on Saturday, March 14, 2020, we received a notice from the Government of Quebec: “The government of François Legault declared a state of health emergency on Saturday, a temporary measure that gives exceptional powers to health authorities to stem the spread of the virus. The Prime Minister also invites Quebecers aged 70 and over to stay at home ‘for a number of weeks’. I want to send a message to seniors who are at higher risk.”
When I read this decree that day, I suddenly realized that, given my age, I automatically fell into the category of the most at-risk people in Montreal. So I had to confine myself, remain at home, ‘stay inside the cabin’ (excuse the expression) for a few weeks or a few months.
But my voluntary confinement was not too catastrophic. At first, I regretted not being able to continue my presence as spiritual assistant to secular Franciscan fraternities in the region. I also regretted not being able to continue my occasional ministry at the friary penitentiary.
I remember that on Sunday, March 15, the day after the enactment of the confinement decree, we had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, but without the usual presence of the faithful in our chapel. When I entered the church and saw the nave completely empty, I felt a kind of sadness, a sorrow caused no doubt by the absence of our brothers and sisters. This completely stripped-down nave evoked in me the image of an empty tomb. Moments later, I suddenly became aware that this empty tomb was in our chapel dedicated to the Resurrection! In the context of the pandemic, these two images of the tomb and the Resurrection symbolize the confrontation between death and life.
Marc Chagall’s small painting, The Resurrection of Lazarus, which accompanies this article is dated 1910, and relates directly to his memories of icons. Chagall took an 11th century Byzantine miniature as an iconographic model. He completed this work as an art student in St. Petersburg, shortly before moving to Paris. Although the character’s halo refers to his status as a Christian saint, Chagall reminds the viewer that the story concerns a Jew, as suggested by the interlocking triangles of the Star of David and the hands held in the Jewish sign of priestly blessing. Those emblems are inscribed on the tomb of Lazarus from which he has just come out alive. Let us hope that, like Lazarus on this painting, we may emerge from this ordeal very soon to continue, each in his own way, our Christian and Franciscan mission.
Jesus and the death
By Cardinal Danneels
as at the tomb of Lazarus,
you are sad
when people must die.
But much greater is the sadness
when we embark
on the paths of sin,
this other form of death.
So, roll the stone in front of this tomb,
remove our strips of linen,
and the shroud from our head.
Let us go, too.
Then, on the last day, we will hear your voice,
we will come out of our tombs and we will go to meet you.
Because, like birds, we will have escaped the birder’s net:
the second death.