“Instead of anxiety, let us embrace faith and trust in God.”
As the entire world responds to COVID-19, I must admit some shock and confusion over the level of fear that seems to be gripping countries, governments, and institutions. Without getting into the science of it all, since I am no doctor or virologist, the radical responses to the virus do not seem to fit the cause. I do not want to downplay the seriousness of the suffering or ignore the tragedy of the deaths. At the same time, some of the reactions make it seem like we are facing not a new strain of the flu but the Black Death.
It is hard to even keep up with the response. It’s impossible to know what the situation will be when this post is published in just a few short days. In the United States, we’ve seen colleges closing and offices evacuating after a single case was diagnosed. While we should work to contain the disease and prevent suffering and death, should society come screeching to a halt? Should sacraments be suspended? What is the adequate response in the face of COVID-19? I am not an expert and don’t pretend to have answers. But I can’t help but reflect on the reasons behind the paranoia surrounding this virus.
Fear of the unknown
Admittedly, this virus is new. Questions remain about its origin and how it is spread. We lack enough information to determine things such as mortality rate. There is a lot we just don’t know about COVID-19. There are not only plenty of question marks surrounding the virus, but also its impact on daily life in the coming days and weeks. Here in the United States, most of us are experiencing very little impact. But what is ahead for us? Quarantines, curfews, limitations on travel and movement? The effect on the stock market, our businesses, and our routines remain unknown.
In general, we don’t like the unknown. We don’t particularly like looking into the future with question marks. Very often this is what prevents us from courageously responding to God’s will in our lives. The couple standing at the altar doesn’t know what life will be like together in thirty years. The young man lying prostrate on the cathedral floor doesn’t know what his priesthood will look like in a few months. We do not know what tomorrow brings. This is true every day; epidemics simply exacerbate the fact.
We can worry about the unknown and we can allow anxiety to consume our decisions. Or we can make an act of faith and ask for God’s help in facing the future.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34).
Fear of things beyond our control
We don’t know how to treat COVID-19 and there is no vaccine for it. In a society that wants to manage and control everything, this is unnerving for us. Then add to that things like quarantine or restricted movements and activities. It’s enough to terrify us because we want to be in control.
Men and women have been grasping for control since the Garden of Eden. Just like our first parents, we have bought the lie that we cannot trust the Father. The Catechism tell us, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397).
How often, deep down, do we grasp for control because we doubt he wants what is best for us? How often do we not trust Him? In fact, if you read the Old and New Testaments, you’ll find that God spends most of the pages trying to convince us that He loves us. Yet we wrestle to get control of our lives, because we doubt his goodness and his love.
The Christian life is one of constant surrender. Perhaps we can’t control whether we get COVID-19. But we can turn to our loving Father and surrender the unknown to him.
“Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Fear of suffering
We must not downplay the tragedy of the deaths and suffering caused by the virus. For the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, for the sick and those already struggling with chronic illness, the rapid and sometimes mysterious spread of the virus is alarming. For many, however, the corona virus is similar to the seasonal flu. It’s not pleasant by any means, but it is not life-threatening.
For many Americans, it is perhaps not death from COVID-19 we fear but suffering and inconvenience. Our culture hates anything that causes discomfort. I’m not advocating that we should go out and search for suffering, but we also can’t hide from it. The Christian does not fear suffering, because the Christian knows that suffering has been redeemed in the cross of Christ. God’s own suffering has given suffering a purpose. Christ’s death means death is no longer an affliction, but a victory. Only the culture that understands suffering can fully live.
Our lives on this earth aren’t about comfort, but about heaven. Suffering can be mysterious, and it only has an answer in Christ.
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (2 Cor 1:5-7).
We can wash our hands and practice good hygiene. The elderly or those with compromised immune systems should take extra precautions. In the end, though, we are faced with the fact that we don’t have answers to suffering and mysterious illnesses. We don’t know what our lives will look like in a few months, COVID-19 or not. We do not have control over everything.
Instead of anxiety, let us embrace faith and trust in God.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
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