Of all the brilliant messages Saint Pope John Paul II told the world, the one I believe mattered the most was clear and simple: Be Not Afraid.
The tiny but gigantic piece of advice has been rumbling around in my heart and mind of late as I experience the stay-at-home restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.
The world is beset with fear. Faith and hope that should dispel fear are sorely lacking not only among the rank-and-file people but in their political and religious leaders.
The world is fighting a virus. It is tiny, nasty, and impossible to defeat, at least in the short term. Many of us have been restricted to our homes. Schools, churches, and some businesses are closed. The stated purpose of all this is to halt the spread of the virus.
But the decisions by political leaders are deeply confused. They claim to be concerned for people and lives. I think they are responding to fear, sustained by lack of faith.
What am I talking about?
Let’s start with the decisions of the politicians:
- I can to the grocery store as long as I stay six feet away from other people wear a mask over my nose and mouth.
- I cannot go to Church.
- Kids can’t go to school.
- I can go to the hardware store but not the clothing store.
- I can get my car repaired but can’t have my teeth cleaned.
- People can enjoy the forest preserves in my area but the immense Chicago lakefront parks are closed.
I could add many more examples but I think you get the point; there is a heap of inconsistency going on. Myriad restaurants and other small businesses are going to go bankrupt.
But our political leaders are making fear-based decisions. They say they are keeping the world closed to save lives. I think they just don’t want to be blamed for the loss of life.
In recent days, I have often heard a politician say something along the lines of: “If we save one life it is worth doing what we are doing, even if the economic consequences are horrible.”
That sounds noble but it is just plain lame. Politicians don’t really want to do absolutely anything to save just one life.
If that were true, we would ban air travel and train travel. We could close every street and highway. We would prohibit motorcycles, bicycles, tricycles, skateboards, rollerblades, and BB guns.
We don’t do those things and we would be insane to do them. In fact, we make decisions all the time that is isn’t worth untold sums of money to “just save one life”. If we really believe we should do everything possible to save one life we would make the speed limit on our streets 5 miles per hour. We would require school playgrounds to be built of shock-absorbing rubber that prevents bumps and bruises. We would require every citizen to have a daily physical exam and test for every known disease.
We don’t do those things because they would create a miserable world and are totally impractical. Locking us in our homes also is impractical.
And where are the leaders of the Catholic Church in all of this? They are supporting the decisions of the politicians. Churches are closed. No Mass. No Confessions. No weddings. No funerals.
Yes, if you loaded up a church with hundreds of people coughing on each other you might spread the virus. But the same is true in a hardware store or grocery store. And as with those buildings, there are measures a church can take to ensure health and safety.
But what bothers me more is that our Church leaders have accepted the situation. At a time when people need the sacraments more than ever, the doors are locked. I suspect that is because diocesan lawyers have told bishops that if they challenge the politicians and open the doors – and someone gets sick – they will be liable.
Perhaps. But if we truly believe what we say we believe, that isn’t the worse thing that could happen. The worse thing is what is happening. People are deprived of the sacraments.
I don’t want anyone to get sick with coronavirus, let alone die. But if we truly believe in the Eucharist, we should be willing to risk death to consume it. And our leaders should do anything to provide us with the path to everlasting life. After all, Jesus really can save every single life.