Every news outlet has been covering the coronavirus epidemic with regularity. It’s hard to avoid the news of this disease – it is literally everywhere. And now the Church has had to get involved – the entire diocese of Rome has cancelled Masses, and we have received certain directives from the diocese which requests cancellation of the Sign of Peace and holding hands during the Our Father. I have even seen a church (not in our diocese) with blessed hand sanitizer in the Holy Water fonts!
Caution is one thing, but panic is quite another. I think many people (and institutions!) have slipped into a panic-mode that is neither realistic nor helpful at a time like this. Here are three things to remember as we all seek to stay healthy during this virus:
First, do not be afraid. This is one of the most often-repeated sayings in the Bible. In fact, it is said that the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible – one for each day of the year, because we need to hear it every day.
Why should we not be afraid? Because God is in control. In our rationalistic, science-based culture, we tend to forget this – we think that the destiny of the human race is in our hands. On the contrary – God is in control, and His will always prevails. If it is His will that we contract this disease, we must surrender our will to His. Yes, take precautionary measures, but in our hearts we must not forget that our lives are in His hands. He is a good Father, Who does not abandon His children but orchestrates everything for our good. Yes, “all things work for good for those who love God” – all things includes coronavirus.
Second, as a Christian we must reckon with the fact that all of us will die. It says in Scripture (Romans 14:8) that “if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” We sometimes think that we can avoid death forever. But we cannot. Our life is not ours to own and cling to – it has been given to us by the Lord, on-loan, and we will have to return it to Jesus one way or another. What peace there is when we recognize that we will someday return this gift back to the Father!
As the Christian writer John Eldridge once said, “The most powerful man on earth is the one who has reckoned with his own death.” In other words, if you do not fear death, then you are unstoppable. In the same way, once a Christian has accepted the fact that their life is not their own, that we will have to come to God one way or another, this liberates us from the need to fear death. It frees us from our frantic grasping of life, as if this physical life were the most important thing to protect and preserve. Yes, life is a gift, and we should go to great lengths to protect it. But the gift of life is not absolute – we must all give that gift back to the Lord at some point. Whether it is coronavirus or cancer, a car wreck or old age, we all must die. Christians keep their gaze fixed on eternity, where our true life will never end.
Finally, we must remember our duties to the sick. We have a duty not to abandon the sick – even if they are contagious. As St. Charles Borromeo said during the plague of 1576, “Be ready to abandon this mortal life rather than the people committed to your care.” This past week, we celebrated the memorial of St. Frances of Rome, who lived in the early 1440s during a time of great societal upheaval. She dedicated her life to the sick. Listen to the words of a contemporary of hers:
Many different diseases were rampant in Rome. Fatal diseases and plagues were everywhere, but the saint ignored the risk of contagion and displayed the deepest kindness toward the poor and needy. She would seek them out in their cottages and in public hospitals, and would refresh their thirst, smooth their beds, and bind their sores. The more disgusting and sickening the stench, the greater was the love and care with which she treated them. For thirty years Frances continued this service to the sick and the stranger…
~ “Life of St. Frances of Rome” by Sr. Mary Magdalene Anguillaria
We, too, ought to seek ways to take care of victims of this disease. Do not abandon those who have come down with it! It is our Christian duty, one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Take precautions, of course, but if we happen to catch the virus from someone infected because we are serving them, it is a form of white martyrdom, love-in-action.
And finally, let us keep this all in perspective. As of this writing (last Monday night) there are 22 people who have died of coronavirus, while over 10,000 have died of the regular flu!! We place all of this in God’s hands. If it is His will that we stay healthy, we shall praise Him for it. If it is His will that we get sick, then we shall suffer well for Him. And if it is His will that we die from this virus, we commit our lives into His Hands.
So, yes, take caution, stay home if you’re sick (you are not committing a sin if you miss Mass due to illness!), wash your hands and try to stay healthy. And leave the rest to God.