Media people seem to enjoy broadcasting deaths caused by the pandemic, the lack of hospital facilities for patients, the slow procurement and even slower roll out of vaccines, unmitigated violent crimes, rising unemployment and prices of basic commodities, the long lines of people hoping to receive meager subsidies from the government, and the lack of government support for those who organize community pantries.
The Philippines consistently ranks high in the global optimism index. Butmany Filipinos today who have been habituated to such bad news might agree with a statement in a survey conducted several years ago: “This country is hopeless and I would like to migrate somewhere else if I could.”
The statistics of despair has been hovering like a black cloud over our country.Last year, the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) revealed a significant increase in monthly hotline calls regarding depression, with numbers rising from 80 calls pre-lockdown to nearly 400.
One study declares: “For two years now, the lockdowns and ECQ were imposed during the Lenten Season. Filipino Catholics were unable to attend church services and observe traditional Holy Week religious practices thereby increasing their sense of isolation. For many Filipinos, going to the church every Sunday followed by family gatherings is a tradition that they look forward to but is now not possible, and this has added to a sense of sadness and yearning, and exacerbate feelings of uncertainty.”
As that study shows, the lack of opportunity to experience our sense of belonging through family gatherings heightens our sense of hopelessness. But one might object: “Does these lockdowns and quarantines not, in fact, answer our need to be together with our family? Aren’t we staying at home longer and longer?”
But staying at home does not necessarily make us feel at home. Many people feel trapped and imprisoned in their own homes, afflicted by a paranoid fear of infection, and always looking forward to the end of the pandemic which is very uncertain.
To feel at home means being secure in the knowledge that we belong to someone who will never let us down, someone who loves and cares for us, and will never abandon us no matter what happens. In today’s Gospel reading, that is precisely how Jesus wants us to regard him—someone with whom we feel a strong sense of belonging. He says: “Remain in me as I remain in you Just a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:4-5).
Depression makes us feel disconnected, disoriented, lost, hopeless, and abandoned. We become like a driver, whose car’s GPS, does not function. He does not know his exact location, so it’s difficult for him to get from one point to another.
Our close familiarity with Jesus gives us the homing instinct to always return to Him, leaving behind the statistics of despair peddled by noisy newscaster, and the escapist world of the internet, television, movies, andsocial networking.
Prayer strengthens our sense of belonging to Jesus. When we pray, space and time disappear. We belong to God and we can never isolate ourselves from Him. As we read in Psalm 139: “Where can I flee from Your presence? If I climb to the heavens You are there; If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell in the farthest seas, even there Your hand will lay hold of me.”
Or, as St. Paul writes: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8).