By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA,O.P.
The philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees: “Nothing is more intolerable than being unable to do anything, and having no work or diversion. In that situation, we feel nothing, empty, utterly dependent, and insufficient.This brings about weariness, sadness, anxiety, and despair.”
If he were alive today, Pascal would be happy to know that what he had said in so many words can be expressed in just one term: Slow burn – a period of very little activity, and a gradual building up of an emotion, like anger, that may turn into an explosive outburst.
Slow burn is one of the adverse effects of the self-quarantine and lockdown currently imposed on us. Forced isolation, due to COVID-19, has reduced our daily activities to a minimum. This can induce emotional distress, a sense of helplessness aggravated by sensationalized news, a paranoid fear of infection, anxiety over the limited supply of basic necessities, and uncertainty over the future.
By itself, a period of very little activity (minus the anxiety, anger, fear and boredom it may generate) is a blessing in disguise. To be in slow burn is an opportunity to escape our hectic life or to get out of the rat race, and live unencumbered by deadlines and bottom lines.
Slow burn allows us to swim instead of fish in the waters of life, to laze around without worrying about tomorrow, and seize the moment and squeeze from it every opportunity for happiness. Instead of wasting our life looking forward to the end of the lockdown, why not make use of the seemingly endless moments in our hands?
Pascal has a good reminder to all of us: “It is unfortunate that we seldom consider the present as the goal of our thinking. We use it, as we use the past, as a means to an end. Since we use up the present moment in preparing for a hoped-for future, we never really live. And we are never truly happy because we spend our time just hoping to be happy.”
We begin today our annual Holy Week when we remember how Jesus suffered and died to redeem us. A friend of mine, the ever smiling Sr. Agnes Goyena, OCD, texted me a few days ago to say that she has acquired a new way of looking at the discomfort, anxiety, and mental torture that she experiences during the current lockdown.
She confides: “In the past, when I imagine how Jesus must have suffered, I felt as though I was just watching, like an indifferent spectator. Maybe it was because I could not relate with His terrible agony. None of us wants to suffer. When I myself was in pain, I denied it and looked forward to a future deliverance. But during this COVID-19 lockdown, all of us have no way of turning our gaze away from the pain and anxiety engulfing us all. So, since we cannot escape the pain, why not make it meaningful, as Jesus did?”
Sr. Agnes decided to call whatever pain she experiences, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, as her “treasure” which she offers to Jesus every day. She makes her suffering meaningful by seeing it as a participation in the mission of Jesus. By embracing her pain, she makes present to others the infinite worth of Christ’s suffering and death.
She personifies the words of St. Paul: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fillup in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body which is the church”(Colossians 1:24).