When Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC, announced in March 2020 that Mass would be closed to the public due to Covid-19, I was not angry. His concern for my physical health was cautious. He did not use spiritual bromides to lull us to sleep by making us believe that our bodies are impermeable to the effects of the world or to tell us that defying public health orders in order to attend Mass is a true testimony of our devotion to God.
Mass was not canceled and was still celebrated by priests, although the way lay people participate has changed. It was available online for those who wanted to watch it, and the bishops issued dispensations so that we did not commit any sin by not attending in person. But some of the clergy were angry with what they perceived to be bending the knee to the state. They said that public health was not the responsibility of the bishops, who should only care for our souls.
I was told I was scared because I was obeying the bishop and following the lockdown guidelines, and if I was a true believer I would do my best to get to Holy Mass.
I was told I was scared because I was obeying the bishop and following the lockdown guidelines, and if I was a true believer I would do my best to get to Holy Mass. For some, the pandemic was a demonic force that overtook the world for the express purpose of separating God’s people from the Eucharist. Obedience to our bishop and to public health guidelines was therefore proof of our excessive fear. Reckless behavior was called sacred courage.
Still, I couldn’t forget the desperate news from Italy in early 2020, which warned the world to take the virus seriously. Italians have endured so many deaths and long lockdowns, but they have become creative in their isolation. They opened their windows and sang together, and some even played tennis between the apartments. They thirsted for contact with others but stayed inside in order to protect others. Love your neighbor as yourself, Christ commanded. The pandemic has certainly offered many opportunities to do so.
Sadly, fear of declining church donations and a slowing economy has led some to suggest that vulnerable people should be stranded, but the rest of us should be free to live as before the pandemic. . Why should we be penalized for our good health or our youth? Why should we suffer from poverty or risk being poor? The inability to operate businesses as usual infuriated more people than I expected. The clergy and laity who normally defend the lives of the weakest among us, especially unborn children, were worried about experiencing economic hardship because of blockages – blockages undertaken for the common good.
How could we complain about the sacrifices made for the common good, for the love of neighbor, for the protection of vulnerable people?
We who ask women in crisis of pregnancy to voluntarily accept poverty, to abandon their previous way of life and to renounce anything that interferes with motherhood for the sake of the life of their child, have not held account of our own advice. How could we complain about the sacrifices made for the common good, for the love of neighbor, for the protection of vulnerable people?
The pandemic raised a mirror, and what was reflected was not the image of a loving God but a cowardly, self-centered humanity. As soon as we were given the chance to embrace the mantle of poverty and self-sacrifice, we rebelled. As soon as we were offered the cross, we ran.
More than anything, this pandemic should push American Catholics to remember what we think of the human person and the defense of human life. Let us recall the example of Christ’s sacrifice. Let us remember the sufferings of the holy martyrs. We may not suffer like martyrs, but we can testify to our faith by embracing the restrictions of the pandemic for the sake of God and neighbor. Let us not only be preachers or listeners of the word, but actors of the word. The message we Catholics give to those considering choosing death for their unborn children should be the message we listen to in our own lives. Choose life! The lives of our neighbors also deserve to be protected.