"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

This Day In History: Worldwide Interfaith Day Of Prayer and Fasting

Praying Trees in Ban Pa Pae Northern Thailand by 8thworker

We Pray As One; We Heal As One

Homily delivered at Sacred Heart Novitiate, Quezon City Philippines
by Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

What does Jesus mean by, “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”
I was introduced by one of our Jesuit novices, Bro. Jasper Sebastian Ong, to the world of dolphins and, their nearest cousins, whales. Prior to joining the Society he almost became a dolphin trainer. I did some more research in the web and I found fascinating facts about these animals.

Whales and dolphins are social animals (The World's Smartest Animal by Radiolab)

They do not regard themselves individually but always as a group like many marine biologists have observed. Hence, they are called social animals and might probably even have stronger social and emotional bonds than humans do. There is something about them that we humans could learn from; top in the list is empathy. They are the most empathetic of all creatures—an ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

(Great excitement in 1617: whale beached near Scheveningen, and all the best people are out to have a look. Immortalized in paint by Esaias van de Velde, who was born OTD in 1587.)

There had been occurences when large groups of sperm whales sometimes ended up stranded and die together on seashores even though only one or two of them seemed to be sick. Why is this so? Dr. Harry J. Jerison, a neuropsychologist in the mid-1980s, proposed that animal communications that are emotionally charged, e.g., grief or joy, might be experienced by whales and dolphins as more than just mere passing of information. These sonars or signals carry codes that actually convey shared feelings. Dr. Jerison thought that this might give rise to something called the “communal or collective self” as opposed to “individualistic self.” As a collective body, they do not say "I," but "We." There is no, “I am sick,” but they interpret anything like it always as “We are sick.” And they develop from birth to adulthood thinking not in terms of “I” but “We.” No wonder they have a very high “EQ” (Emotional Quotient). You may have heard of reports about dolphins and whales coming to the aid of swimmers who were drowning but were saved by these animals. They too fend off killer sharks away from human targets.

They do not just look after their own kind. There was a case of sperm whales that adopted a dolphin with a spinal deformity. They welcomed the poor dolphin into their pod as long as it lived. It seems to me that what is perceived as an extreme empathy might just be to them a normal way of proceeding, or their normal ordinary way of being. Some call it sixth sense, which is a kind of direct collective feeling as opposed to thinking about how others might be feeling. Humans are often more prone to the thinking only part and we choose to forget or suppress the empathy.

Communal or collective self

Everyone will agree with me if I say during a pandemic that not only those with COVID-19 are sick, but “we are all sick.” The lockdown is taking much longer because those who are sick affect all the others who are not sick. True healing is achieved if “we heal as one.” One difference that I found out is this: a whale or dolphin does not have to experience a pandemic to realize that he or she belongs to all the others.

To me they mirror what Jesus is saying in the gospel to remain in me as I remain in you. This self is a shared self, communal self with the Lord and with others.

I like to believe that there are many this past weeks and months who, like the whales and dolphins, have chosen to be with one another especially those in need of care to the extent of sacrificing their own lives. After all we cannot deny this inner collective self in us which CORONA VIRUS has triggered. Were these doctors and nurses and other responders forced to walk the extra mile? I reflected on this question because in our gospel today this might be connoted by Jesus when he said "This is my commandment." I have been reading acounts of doctors and nurses especially those who have died, and they are all saying one thing: “This is our duty.” If Jesus were one of the nurses, He would say "I have to do the same to keep my Father’s commandments and remain in His love." Such is the full meaning of the communal love expressed by ‘as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’ Jesus needed to suffer so that we might see that God too can endure suffering. Because the Father and the Son suffer as one and they too are glorified as one.

Worldwide Interfaith Day Of Prayer and Fasting: We Pray As One; We Heal As One

Last point, we make history today which to me is a powerful move. I compare this day as the 1969 famous one-liner of Neil Armstrong upon landing on the moon, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." May 14, 2020 marks Worldwide Interfaith Day of Prayer, fasting and doing charitable works. That may just be one small act of prayer for an individual but it is a giant leap for all of humanity at prayer. It has been organized that we offer this day as an extraordinary day by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (a network of all believers together, believers of different traditions which Pope Francis is a member). Why is there a day like this? Because we can only truly pray as one. We are called to move past our own divisive forms of distancing like race, religion and national borders. By coming together as one may we realize how we are hurting or harming others on a pandemic scale. We realize we hurt and harm as one without realizing.

Maybe to be better humans, we should start acting like whales and dolphins.