‘Tis not easy at a time like this to think rationally – for the world is entering a rather uncertain phase of history, to put it uncertainly, with God truly seeming to write straight with crooked lines.
But here are some thoughts and suggestions, for what they are worth, which may help with your own discernment.
For reading, while isolating at home, delve into Pope Saint John Paul II’ s Evangelium Vitae, whose introductory section reminds us that this life is but a ‘penultimate reality’, echoing Leo XIII’s statement in his Rerum Novarum that “only in the next life will be really begin to live”. We should keep that in mind, as this temporal existence exposes its inherent fragility in this crisis.
You may also want to peruse Pope Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi, in whose opening salvo Benedict clarifies that our hope is not in anything in this transient life – all the riches, goods, income, mortgages, even friendships – but, rather, we hope in the goods of our Faith, in that supernatural hope which only Christ offers. Everything else, as Saint Paul says, is ultimately dross.
Although we must take what precautionary measures are prudent – and the more extreme the threat, the more extreme the measures – we should be cautious in focusing too much on these. For we also need the sacraments, in some way, shape or form. At the very least, Viaticum, Confession, and some reception, one hopes, of the Eucharist, even if attendance at Mass must be attenuated. Also, people have a right to get married and have their children baptized.
We should recall that the Church’s primary mission is not to save or prolong our Earthly life, but to get us to heaven, through the spiritually nourishing and healing sacraments, along with her supernatural and infallible teaching. She is mater et magistra, Mother and Teacher – not a U.N. agency or NGO.
Just so, our own primary goal should not be to save our own bodies, but to save our souls. Part of that may soon likely mean helping others worse off than we are, those who may become truly sick, the old and infirm, exposing ourselves to some level of harm, as our front-line health care workers are already doing, regardless of how ‘safe’ we have kept those same bodies. Medicine is quickly becoming the vocational endeavour it is meant to be. We must have – or pray for and cultivate – the courage of the saints, that parrhesia of which Saint Paul speaks, and not the pusillanimity of the bureaucrat and the legalist. Ponder Pier Giorgio, dying of polio in the prime of his life, contracted helping the poor – and any number of other examples may be adduced.
Don’t get me wrong: We should obey the authorities, insofar as we are able, and do what is necessary to avoid a disastrous outbreak. At the same time, it seems this crisis – whatever the ultimate danger posed by this strange virus, news of which seems to mirror its own chameleon-esque nature – is exposing certain weaknesses and questionable priorities in the Church, perhaps not fully explicit, a tendency to a vague secular and materialist mindset, present in our own souls, let us be honest, which we are called to examine, face and overcome.
After all, life in one sense is all about risk, and the very act of being alive is to advance towards death, with the memento mori a necessary reminder. For our whole lives may be reduced, in one sense, to a preparation for that final meeting with Christ, in which we will be judged, not on our safety, our procedures, our management of risk, or our lockstep obedience to Caesar – all necessary in their own way. Rather, we will be judged on love, which means having our priorities straight, to love God above all things, and being willing to sacrifice for the other, even to lay down our own lives.
After all, if we do thus, no greater reward will we have, in that life where we truly begin to live.
So have hope, dear reader, whatever the weeks and months may hold. Take what precautions you must, but at the same time, trust in God and praise Him still, our Saviour and our God.