HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Like many Catholics at the beginning of the global pandemic, I entered the journey with our Holy Father Pope Francis issuing an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi (blessing) to Rome and the whole world. In his homily, Papa Francis talked about the events of the pandemic bringing to light many truths. I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand these at the time but they came to fruition by the end of the year as I entered the holy season of advent. I can safely say now that it took a whole change of heart, humility and a time of deep reflection to see how the events of the year 2020 had truly shaped my faith as a believer in Jesus Christ.
“The pandemic shows us – how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.” – (Pope Francis, Extraordinary Moment of Prayer before Saint Peter’s Basilica, 27 March 2020).
This reality struck me as I navigated through this crisis as a student studying in Canada, away from home. With travel restrictions, I was separated from my parents and friends, unable to visit home for the holidays as I usually did. The four walls of my university room became my haven leading to constant mind games and emotional upheavals. Unable to physically talk to my peers coupled with thoughts of being alone on the holidays, brought bouts of loneliness, causing an unusual amount of sadness which I was not used to. With each passing day, I was convinced that I was alone and believed the lie that God had abandoned me to my fate. I believed in God, but did not trust His character.
That Sinking Feeling
A few weeks into this ‘locked down’ life, I was plunging into darkness and reached for what would have to be described as the lowest point of my life in 2020. I woke up exhausted – with a monotonous life, existence, with no purpose and a feeling that I had to deal with life on my own. I lost the strength to return to prayer and I risked my faith by disconnecting myself from the youth community. I was becoming what John the evangelist warned, ‘lukewarm’ and ready to be spat out.
Romans 8:38-39 says “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here, St. Paul reminds us of how God deals with us – sinners.
It is not us who come to God, for we inevitably alienate ourselves from Him when trials strike. Instead, it is God who comes to us irrespective of our circumstances.
No situation or height or depth or darkness or pandemic can separate us from His love, because His love is not defined by how we respond, but rather who we are to Him – sons and daughters that He loves with an everlasting love.
Plunging into the darkness as I see it today was necessary for my soul. The storm of the pandemic had undoubtedly exposed me. It exposed how I had become dull and feeble towards the things that nourish, how I had trusted people more than God and how I had invested my peace in the world and not in the Holy Spirit. But thanks be to God who is always faithful. That day, labeled as my lowest, also happened to be a moment of elevation as a friend got in contact with me, urging me to pray and helping me to see beyond my lukewarm life.
In prayer, God showed me a vision of what seemed to depict the parable of ‘building the house on the rock’. The man who built his house on a rock was described as ‘wise’ while the other who built his house on sand was rendered ‘foolish’. The house on the rock withstood the storm while the other one collapsed.
The message was clear. I was building my life on frivolous foundations. I had failed to understand that my loneliness was a reflection of my lack of faith but also a reflection that I had turned to ‘alternative gods’ to comfort me. Not knowing where to go, I began to fast and pray for a contrite heart and a new beginning. That sincerity birthed a great desire to begin a daily devotion of the Word of God.
It is more than six months now since I started and not a day has gone by without His Presence. In fact the daily devotion had become such a habit that if I were to fall asleep around the time I’m scheduled to meet with God, I would be awakened by the Holy Spirit right in time. Other times, if I would down prioritize prayer, my spirit would become restless until I came to the Lord. What more, with each passing day, I am still discovering more about how beautiful and compassionate the character of God is. I am overwhelmed by the height, depth and width of the Father’s love for me.
God does not abandon us, but offers us constant compassion and continued refuge under his wings.
Hope To Return
If you are in a similar place, I want to encourage you today. As the popular song goes, ‘He is closer even than our own skin.’ Yes, He is. No matter how broken or disintegrated or how far we wander, God seeks to comfort our lonely hearts and invites us to find our rest in His Presence.
I am so glad for advent 2020 and the year itself. I am glad that it was a time of retreat and isolation, quietness and introspection. I am grateful that I was alone with Jesus. Life truly came full circle with the pandemic. I saw purpose in my pain and advantage in my adversity. I saw the necessary purging I needed to replace the false gods in my life in order to seek the virtues I had lost and so greatly needed to return to.
Am I still a sinner? Yes, without a doubt. Do I fall still? Yes, but today I have come back to the Hope that never lets us down. I have been refreshed by the Spirit to renew my choices and I have rediscovered the beauty of a God who stays with us through the rift and tide, a God who walks with us through it all and a God whose very Presence brings us to a place called ‘Home’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Menezes is a full-time student and self-proclaimed loner, his only hide-outs being home, university and Church. He loves everything surrounding the saints, Mother Mary and the tech industry. His heart’s desire is to live a life fully devoted to Jesus and follow Him in every way possible. He currently resides in Edmonton, Canada. You can reach him at @joseph.menezes