The following is a personal reflection by Annie Sarlo, Deputy Secretary for Evangelization and Formation for the Diocese of Allentown, who is recovering in the hospital from the Coronavirus. It is published with her permission.
“Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
When I saw the thermometer reach 101.3, I felt an initial twinge of fear hit me in the gut. I felt another warm rush of fear well up within me as the first bout of a dry, intense cough began to rise up in my chest. I sat on my couch that evening and thought, “Oh, no! ‘Rona? Is that you?”
Because of how quickly and boldly the symptoms came on, I sensed almost immediately that I had caught the virus, and that the virus had caught me. The words of Scripture provided for me, in that moment, great comfort and a boost of trust. “Do not be afraid.”
Eight days later, after having been diagnosed with COVID-19 and pneumonia, I once again felt a slight twinge of fear as I dialed 911 and waited for the ambulance to arrive. I sat in my living room and awaited transport, and I took a slow deep breath and prayed, “Jesus, I trust in You. You are my life. You are my comfort. You are my strength. You are with me. May all those I meet today and in the coming days see You in me. May they know You.”
As I boarded the ambulance, I had a quick flashback to when I boarded my first flight to the Philippines as a young missionary many decades ago. I was so eager to spread the “Joy of the Gospel” throughout Asia. I didn’t know what to expect as I departed for a foreign land for the first time. I soared with youthful enthusiasm and missionary zeal.
As the paramedic strapped me onto the gurney, I was transported back to the present moment. At this phase of my missionary journey, I felt close to St. Peter. In my middle age, someone else was now fastening a belt around me and taking me to a place I didn’t really want to go (cf Jn 21:18).
As the ambulance turned onto Cedar Crest Boulevard, I began to reflect on it being the first Sunday of Advent. “What a way to kick off Advent 2020,” I thought. Advent, the time of waiting, a time of preparation, a time of eager anticipation and joyful hope. “Jesus, I trust You,” I repeated.
I now lie here, in my hospital bed, and wait. I lie here in a blessed space of confinement, not quite solitary, with all of the comings and goings of medical personnel, but still confinement.
As one who is generally very active, it’s been challenging to “just” lie here and wait. I wait for my lungs to heal. I wait for my body to regain strength. I wait for the myriad of treatments to run their course.
Waiting is difficult. Lying still is difficult. But I am grateful for this moment to be still, to pause, and to just breathe. I am so aware of my every breath right now. I am grateful for my every breath and the gift of life!
As I lie here, my heart turns to our Blessed Mother. I draw near to Her and imagine myself climbing up onto her lap to sit next to Her for a moment. I rest my weary head next to Her Immaculate Heart and listen to Her breathe. I ask her to teach me how to love Jesus as she loves Him. I ask her to show me what it was like for her during her Advent and time of waiting. In her blessed confinement of nine months, Mary waited. She waited for the birth of the Incarnate Word, Her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
This suffering is purifying my heart to prepare for Christ’s coming, while also making me hunger and thirst for the Eucharist.
Mary, with you I speak, “Let it be done to me according to God’s will.” May my life bear Christ to others. May my bout with COVID bear fruit for souls.
I pray that all who might be feeling fear, and anxiety, and uncertainty because of the ongoing pandemic will find comfort in knowing that they are held close in the embrace of God’s Love and Mercy.
Pause and be still with me for a short while. Let us hope in the Lord as our source of all strength and healing! Christmas is coming! Let us wait upon the Lord and prepare well our hearts to receive Him anew this Christmas. Let us draw near to Him and find our rest in Him as He takes His rest in us. Mary, I join you in confinement and await the Birth of Christ. Come Lord Jesus!