While COVID-19 continues to ravage humanity daily in a geometric progression, strenuous efforts are being made in the laboratories to produce an effective vaccine against the novel disease in order to eradicate it. This is so because vaccination helps build the body’s immunity to a disease, preventing one from contracting and spreading the disease. Understanding how vaccines are made generally serves as a key in understanding today’s readings. Medical science reveals that vaccines are made using the disease-causing virus or bacteria; for instance, in the case of COVID-19, the virus is obtained, passes through a process in the laboratory, and consequently weakened or killed. This dead (COVID-19) virus is then injected into the body; this is usually done with a shot in the leg or arm. The body detects the invading antigen (that has been introduced) and produces antibodies to fight them. Those antibodies then stay in the body for a long time; in many cases, they stay for the rest of one’s lifetime, such that, if one is ever exposed to COVID-19 again, his body will fight it off without ever contracting the disease.
In relation to the antecedent, we can talk of our spiritual vaccine and immunization received in Christ. As a result of his sin, mankind was faced with a deadly “spiritual virus” called “death”; that is why the Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (cf. Rom. 6:23). However, Christ took our sins (and death) upon himself and killed it on the Cross of Calvary through his own death and resurrection, and by destroying our “death sentence”, we gain eternal salvation (spiritual vaccine) by believing in him through the reception of the Sacraments. This is reminiscent of what happened to the people of God in the First Reading (cf. Numbers 21:4-9), illustrating a kind of spiritual vaccine they received in the desert. We were told that after rebelling against God and Moses, they were bitten by fiery serpents, which led to the death of many of them. In a spirit of repentance, they cried to God, and God ordered Moses to make an image of a bronze serpent, and whoever is bitten and looks at it would be healed. Here, the lifeless serpent served as a “spiritual vaccine” for the people (just like a lifeless virus serves), such that when it was looked at, it overcame the effects of the poisonous serpent. Needless to say, the bronze serpent raised on a standard was a prefiguration of the death of Christ on the Cross which won for us our redemption.
The penitential season of Lent grants us the opportunity of a sincere conversion and believing firmly in the effects of Christ’s death and our reception of its benefits through the Sacraments. However, if we refuse to believe in him, we shall perish like the Jews who rejected him, as Christ rightly stated in today’s Gospel Reading (cf. John 8:21-30). Christ told them, “You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” And in speaking figuratively of his death (the means of salvation), he recalls the same way the people of old (in the first reading) received their salvation by looking at the bronze serpent which was lifted up on the standard: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He…”
My dear friends, while looking forward in hope to the arrival of the physical vaccine for COVID-19, we also continue to hold firm to the spiritual vaccine offered to us by Christ (through his death and resurrection) and received in the Sacraments. In this sentiment, we must recognize our iniquities and pray earnestly to God for forgiveness like the Jews in the desert and also like today’s Psalmist [Ps. 101(102):2-3,16-21]: “O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Turn your ear towards me and answer me quickly when I call.”
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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