It’s no secret that the past few weeks have been focused on one thing: Coronavirus. If you’re having a conversation at work or at school, the topic will undoubtedly be “Coronavirus.” If you go grocery shopping, you’ll see carriages filled to the brim with food and supplies so people are prepared to weather this health “storm.” Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies—all are out of stock and difficult to come by. Scroll through your social media feed and you find one article or post after another with some information about the pandemic. But what information is true? I find myself asking this question, as I seek to inform myself on the situation. I look around me and wonder “Should I be more panicked than I am? Should I panic at all? Am I scared enough? Am I doing enough?”
If there’s anything this Coronavirus outbreak is teaching us, it’s that uncertainty is real. There are some things that we just cannot, in our own power, control. As a society, we have become comfortable with being comfortable. The notion of going without something is difficult, maybe even impossible, for us to grasp. Whether it be a lack of a commodity or an interruption in our daily social patterns, we don’t know what we will do if we do not have these things. Convenience is something we take for granted.
If I could pick one word to describe the theme for this past week, it would be “stopping.” Schools? Closing. Classes moved to online. Extracurricular activities and meetings? Cancelled. Work? From home. It seems as though every day, more and more things are taken from us. We can’t do this, can’t go there, can’t find this, etc., etc., etc. Our plans are being erased without our consent.
Even in this season of despair, we are still in the season of Lent. You could say that it’s ironic that this epidemic has exploded during this particular liturgical season, but I do not believe it is merely coincidental. Lent is about simplicity—freeing ourselves from any attachments that prevent us from growing closer to God. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we are able to make changes that conform our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls more closely to God’s will. On Ash Wednesday, we hear the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We might think these statements sound morbid (and they are to a certain extent), but they really do help us to put our lives into perspective. We are humans. And we will all die at some point. This is not something that we like to ponder on a daily basis, and it can make us uncomfortable when we do think about it.
It’s times like these, when there’s a large factor that threatens our existence, that we come face-to-face with the reality of death. As humans, we want to preserve ourselves as much as we possibly can; it’s biological and psychological. This instinctual drive probably accounts for much of why people are flocking to supermarkets and stocking up on whatever they can. We want to be prepared. We want to survive. Deep down, we are uncomfortable knowing that this situation is out of our control.
As good as it is to be physically prepared for any type of global epidemic, it is just as (and even more so) important to make sure our spiritual lives are well taken care of. This is what we are called to do in Lent, and this Coronavirus crisis is enhancing the importance of doing so. People in our culture today are generally very busy. Our commitments are numerous, and it can be challenging to balance all of our priorities. Don’t get me wrong—being busy can be a good thing! It is just when it takes us away from our spiritual priorities that it can be detrimental.
When we look at all of the things that are being cancelled (classes, extracurriculars, large events, athletic tournaments/championships), it forces us to reevaluate our own identities. We can derive our individual identities from those things in which we are involved. For example, I am a student, a club leader and a musician. Now that my classes have been moved online, my meetings cancelled and my music practices held virtually, I am left with a lot of time on my hands. That time has caused me to reflect on those things which take up much of my time and to reconsider what defines me. If all these things and more were to be stripped away from me, what would I have left? All I would have is my relationship with God, and this is ultimately what matters the most. I think others are asking themselves the same type of question, and maybe they are afraid of what the answer might be. Who or what is our “one thing?” Is it the Coronavirus? Or is it our God?
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t take precautionary measures or that we are invincible to this illness. What I do intend to suggest is that we surrender ourselves to God. All we can do is the best that we can do. We can do our part by keeping up with personal sanitation, limiting group contact, making prudent decisions, and praying for those affected by the virus. Prayer is the most powerful weapon that we have. The rest of the fighting is up to God.
By Michelle Onofrio