By Arockia Dhas Rayappan
It was a rainy day. On my way to the residence, I saw “Danielle” in a wheelchair, playing with the raindrops at the main entrance of the Vanier Library at Concordia University in Montreal. She looked happy and relaxed. It is not uncommon to see students with arm or leg casts on the college campus.
Assuming she was a graduate student who might have injured herself playing rugby, I struck up a conversation with her. I quickly learned that Danielle, Catholic, was from New York and Montreal. She was healthy and disabled/challenged. She had a normal childhood like other kids her age until she was diagnosed with an illness that put her in an electric wheelchair. Despite consultations with top doctors, her physical condition remained the same and she remained in a wheelchair.
Visiting the library was one of Danielle’s favorite pastimes. She loved it, although she didn’t always end up reading books when she visited. She was happy to visit the library, take a look at the books, and see students seriously involved in academic work. At the time of our meeting, she had managed to manage her life on her own. In a way, her parents had trained her to be independent through these visits. I found her mature, wise, discreet and calm when she spoke of her family.
I introduced myself as a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Delhi in India. Danielle smiled back, “Really, Father?” I loved going to church on Sundays when I was little. Now I can’t, and I don’t go because it’s hard for my parents to get me ready for church. Sometimes I cause a lot of inconvenience to others in the church.
These words of sincerity and authenticity touched me. I assured her and her family of my prayers even though in my heart I disagreed with her that she could cause inconvenience.
During our conversation, I asked Danielle about her experience during the lockdown and her thoughts on COVID, eagerly asking a few questions. His instant response was, “Hard! It’s hard! COVID times were tough. They weren’t easy. She paused. We were silent. The silence was significant too. I asked him, “What life lessons have you learned during the pandemic?
She replied, “It’s very hard and difficult to spend time with the people we love the most, but it’s very important nonetheless. And it’s worth it.
I probed further, “Who are these people?” She, with a sweet smile, replied, “People are my family. They could be your family too!
I began to admire his wisdom. As I regroup, I asked about other lessons she learned during the lockdown.
She said to me, “My friend’s parents who died from COVID will never come back. Those who are dead are dead. We will never see them again. »
At that time, my respect and reverence for her doubled. She drove the electric wheelchair herself to the van that would take her home. I stayed there until the vehicle carrying her moved out of sight. Then I started thinking.
Was Danielle the voice of those countless children, teenagers and young people who had to stay indoors during confinement? Do we spend time with the people we love the most? Loving people in our lives could be Jesus, Mother Mary, Saint Joseph, brothers and sisters, family members, friends, colleagues and co-workers. How much do we value them? Have the lockdowns and consequences of the pandemic brought people closer to Jesus and deepened their faith?
I also reflected on the meaning of life and death. Won’t I meet my family members after they die? How to understand my belief in paradise after the pandemic?
Instantly, I remembered Jesus’ words to Saint Martha: “Your brother will rise again… I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that? (John 11.25-26).
Our Christian faith assures me that we would meet our loved ones in paradise. The dead are not dead. We would find them in paradise. Then, I was struck by a thought: can I learn new life lessons from sharing Danielle?
I remembered the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Amen, I say to you, if you do not change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. He who humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives a child like this in my name receives me” (Matthew 18:3-5).
Let’s remember Danielle’s response: “It’s very hard and difficult to spend time with the people you love the most, but it’s still very important. And it’s worth it. … Those who died of COVID, we will never see them again.
Does it affect our outlook on life, people, faith and friendship? Does it shed light on how we live our faith?
In a speech to his fellow cardinals before the conclave that would elect him Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio invoked the image of Jesus knocking at our door. He recognized that this metaphor, taken from the book of Revelation, placed Jesus outside, waiting to enter. But then the future pope flipped the picture and asked about all those times Jesus knocked from the inside trying to get out. He pleaded for the Church to be one with open doors and not just to welcome those who might want to enter.
The Church must open its doors so that all of God’s people can reach out to a world in need – to those on all the peripheries of life, those on the brink of sin, pain and injustice, those who are trapped in ignorance, indifference to religion, and those who endure all forms of suffering.
May Jesus, God of the poor, the sick and the handicapped, gently knock at the door of our conscience. To his gentle blows, let our response be Ignatian: generous, magnanimous, always available and totally obedient for the greater glory of God.
Arockia Dhas Rayappan is a priest of the Archdiocese of Delhi, India. He is currently pursuing his doctorate. studies in ecclesiology at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.