Saturday, April 04, 2020

A Catholic view of life and death inside a worldwide pandemic

We've heard of, read about, and even studied plagues, epidemics, and natural disasters that have occurred throughout recorded human history. Until now, our perspective has generally been that of the outsider looking in from outside, from a safe distance.

In recent decades there have even been several feature length films on the theme of worldwide plagues or pandemics, which for the most part convey an "end of the world" sort of danger and suspense, including hoped for heroes who lead the containment of the outbreak and the discovery of effective treatments and vaccines.

Now, suddenly in February, March, and April 2020 we all find ourselves no longer outsiders peering into such a threat to the survival of humanity from outside, from a safe distance. Collectively, we find ourselves waking up progressively to the shocking reality and truth that we are, all of us, INSIDE of a worldwide pandemic. We are the human species, immersed in the biosphere on the surface of Planet Earth, under attack by the rapid and invisible propagation of a novel coronavirus - SARS CoV-2 - which, upon entering human air passages, causes the illness Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019).

This virus, like all such microorganisms, knows no boundaries, no distinctions of language, color, racial or ethnic origin, age, or gender. It is airborne and can also cling to inanimate surfaces, and it is otherwise helpless, needing our help to find its way into our nose or mouth and beyond into our airways, where along it can land, secure itself, and attack healthy cells. It is RNA and incapable of reproducing by itself, and needs to attack a healthy cell in order to make copies of itself and propagate, and in the process, compromise our lungs and breathing passages, thereby producing symptoms of illness and, in the worst cases, causing death.

We human beings living all over the Earth find ourselves without distinction all in the same boat. We are all under threat. Our various civil and religious leaders are trying to mobilize our cooperation to modify our behaviors and adopt safety practices to limit the propagation of this deadly virus. It is a common and worldwide appeal to our collective sense of responsibility, to no longer think only of our own selves and personal interests, but to put the health and well being of others first.

We are coming to understand during this crisis that she and he is most human who is able and willing to take good care of herself / himself, and in addition also commits to joining our collective effort to do all that is personally possible for them to do in order to advance the common good, protect the health and safety of all - especially the most vulnerable - and to count on our collective effort rather than only on oneself.

As Catholic Christians our faith helps us to rise to the occasion of this "best quality of humanity" that takes care of itself while also putting a shoulder to our common load and challenge. People who take the path of this fullness of humanity may do so simply as a best strategy for their own survival and / or that of their family, friends, and community. Without faith in God they may even commit their efforts for "the good of humanity" as a noble ideal.

What Jesus Christ offers us is to be - through personal experience and faith - so convinced of God's love for us that we can in our turn live out of selfless and even self-sacrificing love for others and even in a return of love to God. Jesus' resurrection reveals our common destiny beyond death in life that is eternal in the company of God, the Eternal One. The "price of admission" is complete trust in this love of God, which we are to demonstrate through our unreserved and unconditional service of our neighbor, of all without distinction, even to the point of offering our life. 

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