Homily for Friday after Epiphany, 7 Jan 2022, Lk 5:12-16

Today’s Gospel about the healing of a leper reminds me of someone who shared to me recently about the grace that Covid19 had brought into his life. How it made him rediscover the gift of SOLITUDE AND PRAYER.

It seems obvious at the outset why he found himself in solitude when he tested Covid positive. He was of course required to go into self-isolation. But he said, ironically, his quarantine experience did not immediately lead him to solitude. Why? Because he held on to his cell phone. He did not stop doing research in the web about Covid, what it does to the body, how to manage symptoms, how to help in contact tracing, what vitamin supplements to take to strengthen his immune system, etc. He said the more he learned about Covid, the more anxious he became. He kept checking on his body temperature, his oxygen level, his sense of smell and taste.

Before long he could not sleep anymore, so he binged on Netflix. In between, he kept posting about his condition on FB and kept getting messages from people who wanted to know what he was doing and who each had a hundred suggestions on how to manage symptoms based on their own research. He kept asking for prayers for healing but never prayed himself. He just found himself practically hooked on his cell phone 24/7–sleepless, anxious, paranoid, and mentally fatigued by an overload of information.

One night, he said, unable to sleep and feeling again the onslaught of an anxiety attack, he found himself calling to God desperately and begging for mercy. Using the exact words of the leper to Jesus in the Gospel, he said in his prayer, “Lord, if you will to do so, you can heal me.” And he said the answer that he heard from God in his mind was, “I do will it. But DO YOU WILL IT YOURSELF?” The moment he said “Yes,” the follow up message was, “Put down your cell phone. Turn off all the ideas that keep playing in your mind about Covid19. Turn off the anxieties that are making you sleepless.”

He did. He started praying the rosary again, lying in his bed, and before he could even finish, he fell asleep without setting his phone alarm. He woke up refreshed. He wanted to check the time with his cell phone but realized that it was discharged already. He decided not to recharge it. And that’s when he said he really found himself going into solitude—not the solitude of isolation, but the solitude of communion with God in prayer.

It made him write a spiritual journal again with each entry starting with the words, “Dear Lord…” He opened the bible diary somebody had given him for Christmas and found himself reflecting on the readings for the day and wanting to attend Mass. Since he could not attend physically, he recharged his phone but only to attend Mass online.

The days passed and his quarantine was soon over. But from then on, he developed the habit of assigning only 30 minutes of his day, 15 minutes in the mid-morning and 15 minutes in the late afternoon to check on his messages, emails, and notifications in the social media. He even set his alarm to make sure he kept to his 15-minute discipline on his cell phone use.

The discipline had made him more concentrated in his job, gave him more time with family, allowed him to productively use the rest of his time. He also found the opportunity again to to sort out his clothes, his books, his notes and personal effects following the Marie Kondo Japanese method, in effect giving away what he did not need. He found time to do gardening, brisk walking, basking in the early morning sunlight, reading books especially about society and history, listening to music, cooking, praying and writing his spiritual journal and reconnecting with friends.

He looked back and realized what a blessing his Covid19 experience had been to him. How it liberated him from his addictions, how it freed him from his fears and anxieties, how his negative solitude of isolation made him rediscover the more positive solitude of spiritual communion with God, with himself, with nature and with the people he loved.