For months now, we have been living under the fog of a pandemic that seems to stick worse than chewing gum in curly hair.
We have seen livelihoods lost through business closures that simply cannot afford to reopen, couples forced to stay apart due to the ever changing safety guidelines of air travel, and the constant reminder of death tolls and second waves in our mainstream media are quite frankly driving people to the brink of insanity.
In spite of all this, one would hope that faithful Catholics might have an altogether different approach to the pandemic. We can find great joy and hope that we are called to live for Christ, there is no burden that cannot be made lighter nor any cross too much for us to bear. We know that with every suffering, there is purpose and hope if we put God at the centre.
Last week I was in Dublin, and I can honestly say that I have never been happier to live in the countryside. I couldn’t wait to get home. When I got to Heuston station, almost everyone I encountered were walking around like robots, heads stuck in their phones, masks on. I asked one woman for directions and she, quite literally, jumped backwards in fright because she felt I might have breached social distancing by more than an inch. She then took off in the other direction without actually helping me with my query. Still with no clue where to go, I opened Google Maps for directions. So there I was with my head in my phone like everyone else.
I felt that many people I encountered in Dublin seemed to be living in fear. As a Catholic, I am called to be a witness to the good news, to live in hope even if things aren’t always easy here or if life doesn’t turn out as you might expect. We are called to bear witness to Christ and to proclaim his beautiful message of hope and love to the world by the way that we live our lives.
How are we living in that spirit of charity and hope when almost everyone is afraid of everyone else? Are we so scared of suffering that we will bypass a homeless man on the street because we might breach social distancing guidelines by getting too close or shaking his hand? Just as is the case prior to Covid, people are experiencing a crisis pregnancy, or missing mortgage repayments, or worrying they’ll be left with no roof over their head. Maybe you’re a prisoner and you haven’t seen anyone in months, or you’re grieving the loss of a loved one that was refused a Christian burial. No matter how you are suffering or what is going on in your life, we all need compassion, we all need someone to be there, even just to hold our hand or give us a hug, to reassure us that things will be okay, that it will not be like this forever.
How, and I ask this question honestly, how on Earth are we supposed to act in the spirit of Christian charity when we are not allowed within six feet of the other person, when we aren’t technically allowed to hug, or touch, or offer any other form of physical contact? For some time now I have been thinking, what would Jesus do if he were walking among us now? This same Jesus who laid hands on the lepers, those who were total outcasts from their countries, until one followed Him one day because he know that God Himself would not turn him away, and he was healed, much to the dismay of the disciples, Jesus went right up to the leper, hugged him, laid hands on him, and healed him. As I write this, I feel as though so many Catholics are turning away from those that need hope, those that need to know that no matter how hard things get, that God is with us and He who made the Heavens and the universe will bring us through whatever sufferings we face if only we would turn to Him in faith and trust Him.
St Teresa of Calcutta didn’t let fear prevent her from caring for and extending her Christian charity to those on the margins that she served her entire life. St Damien of Molokai didn’t turn away from the lepers when they needed spiritual and medical care when they were quarantined to a leper colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. What about Blessed Pierre Giorgio Frassati who gave his life serving the impoverished who were often riddled with disease? What would these saints think of our ever so distant non charitable treatment of our neighbour, who we are meant to treat in the same way that we would wish to be treated?
During World War II, St Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to the Catholic faith was put to death in a gas chamber but before getting there, she spent her time in Auschwitz concentration camp. She spent her days minding children at the camp, playing games with them, singing songs, and entertaining them. All those around her said she brought an altogether different type of positivity and hope to the camp for those that spent time with her, and she attributed it all to her faith in God, and that she was not afraid.
Be like Edith, be a light in the darkness, and show to others that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and that hope springs in the most unlikely of places if we would only open our eyes and look.