Faith In Time Of Corona
The devil is rubbing his hands, not with disinfectant but with glee, at the fear and panic that is consuming the world over the coronavirus, or Covid-19.
The evil one, whichever way we may conceive him, has seduced mankind. Panic has infected reason, fear has supplanted hope.
When public Masses are cancelled for weeks, the faithful are being separated from the sacraments, prevented from receiving the Eucharist, stopped from praying together in community; when people of profound faith place their fear above God, then this is a victory for all that seeks to separate God from his people.
Of course, the decisions by bishops to take preventative measures—whether it is to close churches or to empty holy water fonts—have been made in the interests of public health.
We may have faith that no harm can come to us in the Eucharist, but taking prudent precautions is also a personal and civic responsibility.
These decisions must be respected, especially in light of these unusual circumstances for which past experience has not prepared us.
Here we must hold conflicting positions: to see prudence in the decisions affecting the Mass while at the same time seeing in the effect of these decisions a compromise of our faith.
Our job then shouldn’t be to criticise those who are trying their best to respond to an unprecedented situation but to discern how we can counteract all that diminishes our relationship with God.
This situation gives us an opportunity to dialogue with God. Where do we meet God in this time? What is he telling us in our own experiences of the present circumstances? How does God want us to respond to these circumstances?
As Catholics, we now have a choice whether we place ourselves within the frenzy of alarmism (or, for that matter, denialism), or whether we entrust ourselves to God.
According to US Jesuit Father James Martin, St Ignatius Loyola referred to two “movements” in the spiritual life: one from God and the other one very much not.
Ignatius, says Fr Martin, “called the one that doesn’t come from God (and that also moves us away from God) the ‘evil one’ or the ‘enemy of human nature’”.
The evil one, according to St Ignatius, causes “gnawing anxiety, to sadden, to set up obstacles. In this way he unsettles people by false reasons aimed at preventing their progress”.
We can observe the “evil one” in the panic, the fear, the rumours, the lies, the denial of reason, and the demonisation of those who are thought to be responsible for spreading the coronavirus.
We encounter him in supermarket battles over the last packet of toilet paper.
We can see him in everything that separates us from God and the grace he offers.
“That interior voice that relies on rumours and leads to panic is not coming from God. Ground yourself instead in reality,” Fr Martin wisely counsels us.
St Ignatius tells us: God’s spirit “stirs up courage and strength, consolations, inspirations and tranquillity”.
In the words of Fr Martin: “Anything that leads to despair is not coming from God. Anything that builds up hope is.”
We may also take some counsel from a French bishop who has said that “more than the epidemic of coronavirus, we should fear the epidemic of fear”.
Bishop Pascal Roland of Belley-Ars has suggested that Covid-19 is a reminder that “we want to hide from ourselves the fact that we are mortal, and having closed off the spiritual dimension of our life, we are losing ground”.
Writing on his diocesan website, the bishop noted that “because we have more and more sophisticated and efficient techniques available, we claim to master everything, and we obscure the fact that we are not the masters of life!”
He asked: “Doesn’t the collective panic we are witnessing today reveal our distorted relationship to the reality of death? Does it not manifest the anxiety-inducing effects of losing God?”
Exactly in this time of frenzied alarm, we may examine our own mortality and our trust in God’s guiding hand.
This is a grace we may accept in this time of coronavirus (and, indeed, Lent): God’s invitation to us to contemplate our relationship with him and his people among the distractions this world offers.