Reflection on Pandemics and Faith by Deacon Jerry Brennan

Posted on March 21, 2020 by Published by

The corona virus, or Covid-19, is a serious matter and each of us needs to be prudent to reduce the risk that not only we, but those we come in contact with, have a better chance of not contracting the disease. The virus mutates and apparently the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are more at risk than the young and healthy. But no one is immune from the virus and everyone is at risk of spreading the virus to others even if they themselves are likely to only have a mild case if any visible symptoms. This is why Cardinal Cupich (as well as most other bishops in the country), local state and Federal authorities are all encouraging people to minimize contact with others to reduce the spread of the disease.

This is not the first pandemic in the history of the Church and pandemics and plagues in the past were part of the growth of the Church. In ancient Rome and many other societies, it was a common practice to abandon the sick and the dying in the streets and to walk over or around corpses. Christians did not do this. The catacombs evolved and developed because Christians buried their dead. They placed charity above personal risk. One example would be in the Third Century A.D. when an epidemic swept through much of the Mediterranean region and as many as 5,000 people a day were dying in Rome. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, encouraged his flock to care for the sick and the dying. There was a renewal of the faith just as there had been following epidemics in the Antonine plague in the 2nd century and the Justinian plague in the 6th centuries.

In some situations, people built Churches on instituted pious practices in thanksgiving for being spared from a plague or epidemic. One of the most famous is the Passion Play begun by the people of Oberammeragu, Germany in 1634 in thanksgiving for the end of deaths in that German city from the Black plague. Although the Passion play is now celebrated in years that end in “0” and not in “4” the play has continued since 1634.

There is a similarity between what we go through in times of crisis and Christ’s passion. Certainly, we can learn much from how he suffered and witness it in our lives in how we react. We need to be prudent and prayerful. But hoarding toilet paper or many of the things we are doing are signs of fear not faith. College students who are excused from classes because the school has been shut down who congregate in bars show signs of foolhardy behavior not faith.

Christ told us 365 times “Be not afraid” We should pray and be charitable. Whether charity comes from financially caring for the poor, many people will not have adequate resources to weather these times, or later when quarantines have passed finding ways to help others just as the early Christians did.

For the time being, with the history of plagues and epidemics, and the faithful’s responses, there are a whole roll of saints to whom people pray to intercede in these epidemics.

Remember be not afraid!

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