Minimum: Gratitude

Reflection: Third Sunday of Easter (18 April 2021)

Minimum: Gratitude

by Francis Miguel Panday

It is not unknown to many, especially to those within our humble circle, that a third of our population in the seminary had been infected by COVID-19. One common reaction that rose aside from gloom was shock, paving the way for many unnecessary but very human responses to this highly unlikely event. Some have gotten even more paranoid than ever, some have felt extra anxious, some were peculiarly indifferent about it, but significantly, many were scared, in deep doubt, without peace.

However table-turning this may seem, the brothers have remained docile, cooperative, and accepting, not in a passive way, of course. To be honest, any person promised of security from the virus and being breached from it would definitely resent his promisors. But this was not the case; and it is something to rejoice about. This short reflection/narration of how our journey towards recovery aims to provide a glimpse of what it took to be a patient patient.

A handful of days before the Holy Week, everybody was busy with the preparations for the upcoming graduation, for the summer apostolate, for the Holy Week per se, not to mention the very busy finals week that came before it. Priests and seminarians, alike, were starting to feel the weight of the newly normalized setup of formation. Everybody was still adjusting, and it truly was no easy task.

Within these days I have been feeling unwell and started to feel feverish, with a chance of cough, but my excitement of summer overshadowed all that was on my plate; and my temperature was strangely normal, so I kind of ignored it, thinking it was an ordinary fatigue I would always experience on my busy days.

While cleaning after breakfast, it was Holy Monday, I felt so tired, close to fainting and so was advised to stay in my room to rest. It turns out, some have already been told to do so. The next day we were slowly being asked to transfer to another building for isolation, as our number increased. Since we were billeted separately, we barely heard what was happening, only that we were all having symptoms, and that three people were tested positive. Then fear started to escalate.

The following day we learned that all the activities for the Week are cancelled, so we begun thinking that something big and unpleasant had just happened. We eventually got tested, and as I heard the doctor said, “Sir, positive,” I could not believe what I just heard and felt like my heart skipped a beat or two. Knowing many have also been tested positive did not mitigate my emotions, but only made it worse. Nonetheless, those tested negative were sent home immediately, and we stayed isolated.

A day after the test, I was transferred back to my room, along with other brothers who declared free of any symptoms [that day]. It was twilight and the entire compound was so dark and busy but quiet and eerie, it almost felt apocalyptic. The hallway floors were mudded, common doors were closed, beddings were laid on driveways; you know there was chaos and yet the silence was deafening.

Our quarantine officially started then. A team of volunteer seminarians negative of the virus was set up to serve as frontliners with the priest formators who were constantly checking us out. With these people, I just realized that, really, not all heroes wear capes, some wear cassocks and albs.

The first week was tough. Some of us were having mild to nearly severe symptoms, and we would panic for that. Before I was tested, I knew something was wrong. It was not the fever I am used to. Otherwise, it would have been the worst fever I have ever encountered. The body pain is not to be missed, and so was the shortness of breath. Needless to say, the feeling was close to being foreign, that it was familiar though unique and new.

This lasted for more than a week, but were easily addressed since we were tended thoroughly. We had a regular check-up with our doctor, we were sent to the hospital for lab tests, all the prescribed medicines were also given to us in perfect haste. Basically, everything that we needed was generously provided, from our basic necessities to moral and spiritual needs, every thing.

I would say, we were really TESTED, literally and figuratively; but we defied all odds. It was easy for us to blame; we had that advantage, but treating this experience maturely would not leave a room for such. It surely was never anyone’s intent to inflict the virus and all the toxicity that came with it.

No one wanted to happen what happened. We ended up our quarantine celebrating the Holy Eucharist together, with grateful hearts. That is the least we could do and give the people who helped us, our priest formators and seminarian volunteers who tirelessly watched over and cared for us, our families who were dead worried back home, ourselves, and God.

This experience will always remind me of the peace that the Lord has granted us. “Peace be with you,” he said. It was his way of reassuring His disciples that all will be well, that they need not be troubled, and leave no questions in their hearts. It is always easy to hold grudges when you are on the losing end. But the Third Sunday of Easter reminds us that God’s peace is not cheap! It is earned, but it was first given, provided freely for us. More so, it costed life.

COVID-19 is an evil that God Himself spares us from. It will strike you, it will paralyze you, or worse end you, but that does not end His promise of peace, for it is found not in this world. The disciples went through something bigger and more severe than any symptoms we could ever get. They experienced doubt and fear; and in a man of faith, these two are the greatest viruses that may ruin every fabric of love left for the Lord.

But this was their part in the resurrection drama. Had they not been in doubt and fear, there would not be a reassurance of peace. Our despairs are usually guised in dreadful faces, and it is only normal for us to reject them at once, but it should not stop there. Every suffering is an invitation to a resurrection moment. The virus may weaken us for a time, but it will strengthen us in the long run. It is both a poison and an antidote, at the same time.

With everything that happened in a span of more than two weeks, we can only be grateful of the peace that the Lord had given us — peace of minds and hearts. His presence was very evident in the many goodnesses that people had shown and given us, and there is just too much to mention.

It is quite unfortunate that the virus had to strike us first before I realize the gravity of its effects. I felt shame, really, for underestimating the virus. I had to get it myself first before I actually believe it. This humbled me in so many levels, and it left me nothing but gratitude. This gratitude will not be possible if not for humility — the humility to recognize that you are grateful. Only then can we achieve the peace He promised.

Upon our recovery, I would say, we have become witnesses of this promise. We have experienced the darkest of our times, thus far, but then again, it could be worse, so what is not to be thankful for?

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