USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Bridges Over Troubled Waters

“The Reign of God Is the Reign of Love” by Sister Reina Perea, OP

I was reared in the Catholic tradition, born here in Los Angeles of Mexican heritage. My faith has grown over the years, going to Catholic schools and praying the scriptures daily.  However, more than what I’ve learned in church sermons and spiritual reading, it’s what I observed from my parents day by day when I was a child that is the foundation for my faith. And so my faith lies in a loving God, not a God who sits on a throne constantly judging me. Faith in a loving God is what I carried into the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago.

I have heard some people with religious beliefs claim that God is punishing us with this virus. I know in my heart that this is not the God I believe in. I believe in a God who loves me unconditionally, a God I can trust. I learned this from watching my mother holding her newborn, my baby sister, when I was 6 years old. As I watched my mother look lovingly into my sister’s eyes, my sister was learning to trust. I thought to myself, My mother must have looked at me the same way.

So, I grew up feeling secure and trusting the ones who care for me, beginning with my parents. Isn’t that God, reassuring and loving me through them? John’s Gospel can be summed up in three words: God is Love. 1 John 4:18 tells me, “In love there can be no fear, and fear is driven out by perfect love.” I go back often to this verse because it’s one of my favorites.

The story of the Good Samaritan I learned from my father, not because he read it to me, but because he lived it. Once, driving down the street, he stopped the car all of a sudden and jumped out. We saw him run to a woman who lay bleeding in the street. He picked her up and put her gently into the back seat with us and told us to hold her. We drove to the hospital where he took her to the emergency room and waited to make sure she was okay.                                                                                                                                                                 What gives me hope during this pandemic? What gives me hope are the many stories I have seen on TV, stories of modern day Good Samaritans helping those in need: thousands of people donating to food banks across the country, children being moved with compassion and raising money to feed the poor and the homeless, a Black man carrying a wounded white supremacist to safety during an unfortunate clash–all those who, by their actions, preach the Reign of God here and now, a reign of love, justice and peace. Is not God acting in all those Good Samaritans? These stories that I witness give me so much hope now and hope for a better future for everyone.

I have received daily doses of hope from my religious sisters and my family. After the death of George Floyd, I decided to invite the sisters in my religious congregation to a virtual Listening Circle, and 32 sisters responded. Every Sunday since June 7, 2020 we have met to listen to one another without judgment, believing that everyone deserves to be listened to with respect. Most of us, including myself, have had times of depression or feelings of helplessness. We encourage and support one another, and we always end with prayer and hope. During this COVID time, there have been many opportunities for us to become a better city, a better country, a better world, opportunities for us to help someone in need. What we do with these opportunities to bring the Reign of God to the world is up to each one of us to choose or to refuse.

Prayer, alone and with my community, has always strengthened my faith. Some people say that God does not answer prayers. There’s the story of a man caught in a flood that kept rising. He eventually ended up on his roof praying, “O God, please save me.” A man came by in a boat and told him to get in. The man on the roof declined the offer, saying, “God is going to save me.” He kept praying, “O God, please save me.” Just then a helicopter came down and tried to rescue him. He answered again: “No, God is going to save me.” Well, the flood kept rising, and the man drowned and went to heaven. He asked God, “Why didn’t you answer my prayers?” God replied, “Well, I sent you a boat and then a helicopter to save you but you refused my help.”

God does answer prayers, and sometimes we’re just not ready to see things any other way but our own. I believe God speaks to us in the people around us–family, friends and even strangers, those in whom we place our trust. How else can God love us, care for us, be generous to us, except through loving and trusting one another? My faith and hope have grown in this way.

It’s hard not to be in control. This pandemic has reminded me that God is completely in control. For me, my faith relies on a God of unconditional love.

My prayers to all who have loved ones in heaven now, especially those taken by the virus. Sorrow is real, but times like these are when our faith is strengthened. Thank you and may we all be blessed by the God of Unconditional Love!