The time we are living in now looks like a story taken from a fiction book. The world is upside down and everything seems to collapse. In the following essay, I would like to compare the present situation with the book written by the existentialist, Albert Camus called ‘The Plague’ and how the Catholic Church is called to be a witness of the Resurrection of Christ at this time.
In this novel, Albert Camus presents the fictional story of a called Oran. Dead rats begin to appear in the streets but people do not make a great deal of it because it is not affecting them directly. When the disease begins to kill human beings, then people begin to worry. In a reaction to this fear, the authorities begin to lock down the city setting the whole town under quarantine.
The fear of contracting the disease is so great, families are separated from their loved ones. Because of the isolation forced by the authorities, people die alone, funerals are restricted without religious ceremonies. People begin to freak out because of the isolation and the sense of exile. People’s selfishness begins to appear; they just care about their own private happiness and well being. Somehow, the other becomes an enemy, a focus of infection that threatens my life.
There is no cure for the disease. It is impossible to avoid death. It seems that their suffering is not understandable to others. Their suffering seems to be the biggest one of all the earth and they have to face it by themselves. There is an absurdity in this way of living because their hearts are dying to be loving and being loved, of living. “They came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose” (Albert Camus, ‘The Plague’).
The main point Albert Camus wants to make in this book is that life does not make sense. It is an absurdity. Man comes to existence one day to disappear another day. There is no transcendental answer. Man is threatened by this ‘plague’ and it can come to knock at his door at any moment. Man is not really free because of the existence of death, “no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.” (Ibid)
Parallels to COVID-19
The whole world has been shut down, daily life has been interrupted and all our securities are collapsing. Only ‘essential’ things for life are allowed. We are losing our jobs, studies, Churches are being closed, and most of all we are being separated from our loved ones. We cannot even accompany our loved ones in their suffering and they are dying alone. Furthermore, we cannot even give them a dignified burial. We are isolated, confronted by the fear of death. It seems that there is no answer to this terrifying situation and people are alienating themselves in the digital world by watching movies, pornography, playing video games, or in drinking alcohol, taking drugs and many also fall into despair and kill themselves because they are afraid to suffer. We do not want to face the reality of death.
This present time looks like the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 16:
“Of deadly disease they shall die. Unlamented and unburied they will lie like dung on the ground. Sword and famine will make an end of them, and their corpses will become food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. They shall die, the great and the lowly, in this land, unburied and unlamented. No one will gash themselves or shave their heads for them. They will not break bread with the bereaved to offer consolation for the dead; they will not give them the cup of consolation to drink over the death of father or mother.”
Surrounded by Death
The promise made by Science and Technology of fulfilling the desire for happiness in this life by the advance of sciences is falling apart. Science and technology do not find a cure for the disease; they do not really know how this virus works or how long it is going to last. There only answer is ‘we do not know.’ We are discovering that we are surrounded by death. However, this is not something new; this reality has existed since the beginning of our lives.
The problem is that we try to avoid the central question of life because we are afraid of not finding an answer. What are we living for? Why death and suffering? Thus, we have come to live in a hedonistic and digitalized society where the only answer to life is the instant gratification of our passions. Before kids would be exposed to death by letting them being present at the bed death of their loved ones and going to their funerals because death was part of life, but now kids are being protected from the reality of death. We are constantly avoiding these questions and that is why we do not live our life to the full.
Think about it for a moment. If there was the coronavirus but there was not death, would there be a problem? No! Again, if there was an economic crisis but there was no death, would there be a problem? No! Then, what is the real problem that humanity is facing today and has faced since the fall of Adam and Eve? Death! As Paschal said in his book Pensées: “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”
Nevertheless, the reality is everyone is under this tribunal; it does not matter if you are rich or poor, tall or short, ugly or handsome, healthy, or sick, in the end, we are all under the judgment of death.
It is very usual that the first religious interpretation given in front of situations of suffering, which we do not understand, is to think that God is punishing the world because of their sins or because we have forgotten him as if he needs us. This interpretation does not come from faith; God has redeemed us and forgiven us already in the person of Christ. Besides that, we know that God is eternal, perfect, and does not need anybody in order to fulfill himself. He does not have a need for us. We know and trust that God is good and can bring good out of evil. What’s more, in this situation we already see the good that it is getting: there are fewer abortions, less euthanasia and the environment is improving.
Another risk is to think that God is not listening to our prayers to stop this pandemic, but this is an infantile idea of God, to try to use God for our own benefits. The Christian is the one that does the will of God, not the one that uses God to do his will. Then, why would God allow a situation like this to happen? Maybe as a Father that loves his children; He is correcting us to bring us back to himself, not because He needs us, but because He loves us and knows we need him. We cannot be happy without God. The main lie that humanity has received from the beginning of history is that we do not need God, that we are God. We can make ourselves happy; we can solve all of our problems through science and technology. This is very clear in the last two centuries where man has taken the place of God deciding what is good and evil, deciding the nature of man. Man has become the controller of life. If you want to change your gender, you may change it because you are God and you decide whatever you want. If you want to abort, you abort and kill human life that is in you because it is your body. If you want to end with your life just kill yourself.
The good thing about this pandemic is showing us that this is not true. Man is not God. Man does not have an answer to death! Science and technology do not answer to this fundamental problem of human life. We want to live, we do not want to die, but we find the absurdity of life in front of death, as Albert Camus points out in this book. This situation the best thing that is doing is to magnify our reality of death that we experience every day that we try to avoid.
Now, we are being in a way forced to think about these questions. We are confronted by the fear of death and we find ourselves powerless. If we continue living like this, we are all going to become crazy. The reality is that, even when this calamity goes away, we will always be confronted with the problem of death. We are afraid of ceasing to exist. We want to live! I emphasized this to say that the main problem that we are facing today is not the Coronavirus; the real problem that we face every day is suffering and death.
Come Back to Reality
Maybe God is allowing this situation to help us to come back to our reality, to help us to question life and ourselves and find an answer in him. Maybe God is allowing this situation to show us how fragile and small we are, to shows us that we are not God! I like how Fr. Benedict Groeschel describes our smallness in his book ‘Arise from Darkness’:
“Do you realize that you and I are members of an extremely small minority of human beings- the people who are alive just now? Think of the immense number who have died. If you could get back from eternity all the people who once lived in New York City, we could hardly move because of all of them. Think of all those who have ever lived in Europe and Asia. The vast majority of all human beings are dead. You and I are part of this funny little minority that runs around thinking we are terribly important.”
We all think the same way; we think that we are indispensable for the others. We think that if we die the world would lose one of its seven wonders. This situation is showing us that we are not, that we are nothing that we are weak and this is frustrating for us. Maybe God is allowing this situation to make us reflect in our lives; to make us see what it is that really matters in life.
The absurd idea of wanting to create a paradise on earth falls apart in the face of death. The Church has an opportunity to give the answer to death during this pandemic. As St. Paul says, “Now is the real-time of favor, now the day of salvation is here” (2 Cor 6:2). Now is the time for the New Evangelization. Now is the time to show the world, not only through words but especially through our actions that Christ has truly risen! Now is the time to show all that “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15: 54) and God has given us an answer to the ‘absurdity’ of life.
Death is the Door to Life
Christians are called to live knowing and showing “life is Christ, and death is gain” (Phil 1:21). We should live without fear of death. This is not a theory; this is something every Christian can experience because Christ has truly risen! Now is the time to announce that this life is not the only thing we have because God has given us the way to participate in the divine life, an endless life. Now the world needs to see people can walk over the waters of death because Christians are not afraid of death.
Saint Paul converted when he saw Saint Stephen die. Fr. Josef Holzner in his book ‘Paul of Tarsus’ expresses this when he says:
“He looks into the eyes of these dying Christians, and Paul discerns something he has never seen before. He sees a mildness, an expression of inward blessedness, of higher life, of a union with the risen Christ which is disturbed by no pain and no horror inflicted by men; they seem to be in communication with Christ who assures them that they are passing over to a new life and not to death.”
Christians are called to do TODAY to show death is the door to life. The whole world is discovering they are under the power of the fear of death. They see it more clearly, now they have opened their ears. It is the moment to become the voice which cries in the desert that Christ is risen; death has been overcome and our sins have been forgiven. The present life is just a pilgrimage towards our homeland in Heaven.
Albert Camus thought humans being were not really free because of the fear of death. Christianity has an answer to Camus in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are not slaves of death anymore; we are not condemned to be constantly defending our own lives in a selfish way. Now we can love without being destroyed. This is the most essential need of human beings, to know God loves them.
God has given an answer to our sufferings. God has given a solution to our problems. This is what is really essential in life and not alcohol, drugs, or sex or money. This is the only answer which solves the main suffering of the human heart. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:36) This is the main attack the Church is receiving today, to try to put the spiritual life as if it is not something essential for human life. In Spain and Italy, the police are interrupting the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the clergy is not allowed to enter into the hospital to give the sacraments and accompany the dying. It seems Christians can live the sacramental life online.
The Church is an Assembly
The Church is a physical community of persons who make present the body of Christ. “Church means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose. Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people.
By calling itself “Church,” the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly.” In the Church, God is “calling together” his people from all the ends of the earth. The equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means, “what belongs to the Lord.” (CCC, 751) That is why; if we continue quiet, we are confirming to the world that the Church is not essential and the Gospel is not so important as to give up our lives. Christian must step out for the reopening of the Churches; we must step out we may be allowed to enter into the hospitals to accompany those who are dying alone to help them to die, giving them the sacraments and the hope of eternal life. All these things can be done with prudence protecting ourselves.
The solution is not to stop the mission of the Church but to find ways in which we can continue the mission of the Church during this time. We must go out and show the world what science and technology are not able to show, that Christ is risen! That death has been destroyed!
This is what many saints have done throughout the history of the Church. They faced authorities, sicknesses, difficult situations, and even death to bring the Gospel to the world. The Pope has said, ‘Drastic measures are not always good’. By saying, this he is not trying to make a revolt and not obey the security measures governments are taking to stop the pandemic, but he is saying that we must find a way through which the Church makes herself present to her children in this moment of suffering always respecting the security measures.
We can celebrate Mass with social distance may be in the parking lot of the Church, as some Bishops and Priest are doing around the world. Maybe by doing small groups of people gathering to make the Body of Christ present through a liturgical life. Maybe we must buy hazmat suits as Putin did, to go into the hospitals. The Church never abandoned her children throughout the history of the Church and must make herself present in this moment of the pandemic. My parents and family never abandoned me when I was living in deep sin, they never abandoned me when I was sick or when I was living a double life against them, and the same my community never abandoned me in the moments of suffering, time crisis, and times of sickness of my life. They were always there making present the risen Lord. Even now, when I was sick with the coronavirus and was hospitalized the first answer of my parents was to try to come to the hospital to accompany me in my suffering without thinking about the risk of getting the virus, but they were not allowed.
This is love. Love does not think about risk or cost, loves gives everything without limit. This is the mission of the Church, to make present the Risen Lord in every moment of our lives. Thus, you who are Christians, “Strengthen hands that are feeble, make firm knees that are weak, Say to the fearful of heart: Be strong, do not fear!” (Is 35:3-4), go out and announce the Gospel.
Remember we must obey the authorities but “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) and the command that the Lord has given us is to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” showing the world that we are not afraid of death, that we are not afraid of coronavirus or of economic crisis. Show to the world that we pick up serpents, that we drink any deadly thing and it does not harm us. That we lay the hands on the sick who are afraid of death, and they lose the fear of death by experiencing the power of the resurrection of Christ. (Mk 16:15-18) We must not be afraid of getting the virus, besides that there is a very small probability to die of it according to the statistics if you do not have a previous condition.
We must understand the nature of the Church is to be persecuted. Since the beginning of the human life of Christ, he was persecuted. When he was in the womb of Mary, the image of the Church that carries in her womb the risen Lord, He was persecuted by Herod who wanted to kill him, even when he was not born yet. If the Church stays quiet, close, and doing nothing, she will be criticized for not doing anything to spread the Gospel at this time. If She begins to do something to spread the Gospel, She will be criticized for disobeying the authorities.
The Church is going to be persecuted anyway, but it is better to be persecuted by giving her life than by keeping it. This concrete moment of the New Millennium is a critical moment to make Jesus Christ present to the world. Now is the time to show that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rm 8: 38-39).