CORONAVIRUS AND FAITH

– Fausto Gomez OP

According to global surveys, for many people, the majority of them believers, this time of confinement or quarantine is being used to reflect on their life and their beliefs. It may indeed be for all a time for introspection, for reflection. Who am I? Where am I going? What is essential and what is accidental in my life? What are my priorities: Should I meditate a bit more about my death as part of my life?

THE VISION OF OUR FAITH

We are citizens and Christians. As citizens, we are asked by our humanity and faith to be good citizens (cf I Pet 2:11-17). As good citizens we are obedient to the specific norms concerning the novel coronavirus and strive to be respectful to everyone, co-responsible, humble, just and in solidarity with all the suffering, and grateful. As Christians, we believe that God is our Father and that all humans are his children. In Christian perspective, human and religious solidarity is an authentic expression of love of neighbor, which perfects justice. Solidarity is perfected in fraternity, and fraternity in filiation: we are children of God and brothers and sisters of one another – of all – in Christ.

With our co-citizens we are grateful to all those who are helping us struggle against fighting the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying the suffering and dying – and their families. In a special way, we show our gratitude to those fighting the new virus in the front line: healthcare professionals, civil authorities, volunteers, policemen, daily workers and cleaners of our streets … It is joyful to hear the bells of parishes in some countries ringing at midday as a sign of deep gratitude to all those – particularly health care providers, the heroes – who are working in the front lines to help the affected by Covid-19.

We add to this list, priests and religious women and men who are also in the front line helping humanely and spiritually the infected and their families and praying for the dead and acquiring in the process – and at times succumb to – the terrible Covid-19.

Volunteers from different NGOs are praised – as they should be – for their charitable work. We add as another fact: Caritas, the social arm of the Church, Catholic men and women who are working full time throughout the world in thousands of parishes, homes for the aged, and slums in many countries.

To be grateful entails to imitate the generosity of others by becoming generous ourselves, to imitate the mercy of God. As Christians we believe that God is infinitely merciful with all, principally with the most vulnerable, the sick, the abandoned, the poor and all those on the margins of life. In the case of Covid-19, the most vulnerable are the elderly, the disable, and the poor, who constitute the priority concern of the Church, of the believers in Jesus. When health care resources are scarce – intensive care units (ICUs), mechanical ventilators – the reason for prioritization of intensive treatment medicine among patients should never be age, old age, but the medical outlook. We insist, this option to rationing scarce resources should be the last and only option: when nothing else can be done.

As followers of Christ we are deeply grateful and, when just and charitable, we are also critical of those in government and politicians who seem to work more for their personal and party interests and ideologies than for the common good. Faith impels us to give to authorities our critical collaboration.

As believers in God and in the afterlife, we believe in hope. We face Covid-19 with realism and hope. The followers of Jesus are hopeful. Christian hope is patient (cf Rom 5:3-5; Jm 1:2-4), patient through life and particularly when facing suffering and death. The virtue of patience is connected with the cardinal virtue of courage or fortitude, which is a moral virtue or good habit that inclines the possessors to bear the hardships of life with certain tranquility and serenity. Christians “follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ, in order to be made worthy of being partakers in his glory” (Vatican II, LG 41).  The virtue of patience helps us deal with fear, anger, anxiety – and impatience.

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, SUFFERING AND DEATH

God is present in our sufferings: “Christ does not want suffering; He shares it” (J. L. Martin Descalzo).  The Crucified Lord is particularly present in those who suffer and accompanies and gives them strength to be able to make of their pains and hurts a healing wound of love: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example … By his wounds, we have been healed” (I Pet 2:21, 24). The cross of the Christian is a cross of hope that points to the Resurrection of Christ – to our own resurrection: “Through his death and resurrection, Jesus turned sunset into sunrise” (St Clement of Alexandria).

The coronavirus pandemic has made us realize in a dramatic way that we all are mortal. Memento mori (“remember that you must die”), and Nemini parco (“I spare no one”). These two Latin expressions telling us of the inevitability of death keep resounding today in all communications media.  For us Christians – and many other believers – death is not the last word of life, but a part of life. The last word is love, God’s love, which permeates our hope and our faith – our earthly life.

Like suffering, death may also become a redemptive death, when it is lived as death in God, and joined to Christ’s redemptive and victorious death (cf. Rom 6:3-5). The coronavirus continues causing thousands of deaths. This dark spectacle could help us accept our own death and thus help others accept theirs. “Lord, teach us the shortness of life, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90:12).

THE CORONAVIRUS: PUNISHMENT, PRAYER

Is the coronavirus pandemic God’s punishment? None can say that Covid-19 is God’s punishment, unless God revealed it to him or her. As a believer in Jesus, who is God’s face of mercy, I cannot interpret the Cov-19 pandemic as God’s collective, global punishment. Are not the great majority of the deceased from the new virus basically good people?  Is our generation more sinful that the previous one? I remember Jesus’ words: “Do you think that because these Galileans (“whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices”) who suffered in this way were worse sinners than others? No…  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all others living in Jerusalem: No…” Jesus told them: “Unless you repent you will perish just as they did” (Lk 13:1-5). May the pandemic be a warning from above?  Personally, I interpret it as an opportunity to strive harder to be a good human being and a Christian. As a disciple of Jesus, I believe that God will be my Judge at the end of time.

God, like a good father, may and does punish us at times for our sins – medicinal punishment – to help you and me be better and happier: to repent, to be reconciled with him, with others and with creation (cf I Cor. 11:32; Heb 12:5-11) God the Father is the perfect Father, the loving “motherly Father whose power is mercy” (J. Moltman). The Covid- 19, like other pandemics and natural calamities do not come from God but from our finite nature, and often, from our abuse of freedom and lack of respect for creation and its laws. We live in an imperfect world. God created the world “in the state of way towards ultimate perfection” (CCC 310). 

Still, we have to add, the relationship of an infinitely merciful and omnipotent God and evil, particularly the suffering of the innocent ones, is a mystery partly unveiled for believers by Jesus the Son of God who died on the cross for universal salvation and accompanies all, especially when hurting. God is with us in this terrible calamity. “Pain and suffering are not anymore ‘a punishment, a malediction’ from the moment the Son of God took them upon himself.  God is our ally, not of the virus” (Rev Raniero Cantalamessa, Good Friday, April 10, 2020, St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican).

The novel coronavirus is in itself an evil to be fought by all.  As human beings and as Christians we take it as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our life and on our priorities, on our fragility, our selfishness, our careless attitude towards the environment. This meditation makes us aware of our need of repentance, of reconciliation with God, with others and with creation. 

To find meaning to our sufferings and to ask God to heal us, we need to pray. One essential element of our Christian attitude facing the novel coronavirus is prayer – prayer for all, in especial manner for those affected by Covid-19. “Protect me, God, for in you I find refuge” (Ps14:1). Pope Francis is leading us to approach the coronavirus pandemic as believers in Jesus Christ. His Blessing Urbi et Orbi with the Blessed Sacrament (March 27) in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica was astonishing: so simple, so devout, so moving! On April 20, Pope Francis prayed at his Mass for men and women politicians and political parties: “may they work together for the good of the country and not of their own political party.

Everything may have a positive side. Most Christians were unable to celebrate the liturgical services of Holy Week and to be present in the Sunday Eucharist in the Church. Certainly, our physical presence in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, in the proclamation of the Sacred Scriptures in community, receiving Holy Communion cannot be substituted at all. Most Catholics, however, are doing their best in this situation of confinement and lockdowns: following the celebration of the Holy Eucharist online, practicing spiritual communion, praying the Rosary on the internet. In some way, it is a wonderful feeling to be aware that millions are united in praying to God to stop the novel coronavirus. 

Like others before, this pandemic will pass, and tomorrow will be better, if we practice tomorrow what we have learned and practice today: to be more united, to be more in solidarity with those who suffer, to be deeply aware of the fragility of our life, and to respect the life of all. For believers God is the Lord of Life and death, only God, who loves us.

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