Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla writes for Rorate Caeli — “God works in his mysterious ways his wonders to perform.” This is something that Catholics have always understood. And throughout Western history they understood that those mysterious ways often were in the context of suffering and death. They understood that God does not cause suffering and death, but there are times in which mankind is so obtuse, usually because of pride, that the only way to wake us up is by shock therapy. Of course, when mankind has forgotten the existence of a real God who cares and loves and therefore allows chastening, and has instead embraced a teddy bear God that is in their own image, then God has to act, and he acts to shock us from our self-centered stupor to call us back to reality, the reality of the world as it is, the world of sin and death that demands love whose basis is self-sacrifice. And he does so not by inventing ways to punish us but rather to allow fallen nature itself to shock us, to force us to remember our Christian faith, and for me and for so many, to remember our Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles.
The past few days in the United States has been a time of constant bombardment of the senses. For a few months we have watched the tragedy of China at the hands—or rather viral molecules- of the Corona virus, Corvid-19. We have the model of the virus with the red outcroppings seared in our minds We have watched as the virus has spread through the world. We have watched as Italy, such a popular place for vacation for so many Americans, has been devasted by the virus. We have also watched as the virus appeared in the United States, our own country, and the reaction to the virus for us became a part of the deep divide that has afflicted our country for now too many years. It is only today that it seems that people are waking up to the fact that the crisis we are facing is not political, it is not ideological, for the crisis we are facing is a matter of life and death. But it is not merely physical death, as terrible as this is, but also spiritual death. We as a country have in the past few days entered a totally new place, a place that is uncharted. This new place has given pause even to the talking heads that chatter ceaselessly on the eternal news programs. There seems to finally be a realization that this crisis cannot be reduced to politics or to liberal versus conservative. And this is because not only it is about a disease that can cause death and whose origins are murky to say the least. It is because that there is finally and blessedly a realization that we are all in this together. There can be no “us versus them” in this situation. This is something that we will have to undergo together. And this realization is powerful, for “together” has not been in our public vocabulary for a long time.
The hero so far of this real crisis is the long-standing director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He has saved a number of official press conferences by his honesty, his smile that comes from a deep understanding of realism, and his refusal to play any politics at all. He speaks directly, and especially today told us all that it will get worse before it gets better. But he also told us how to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus: by radical self-isolation. And remarkably, this has been taken to heart by everyone from Carnegie Hall to the NBA to churches of every stripe, even the Catholic Church. In these times even the Catholic Church, for which Mass on Sunday is an obligation, in many dioceses in this country has, in this time of national crisis, relaxed this obligation and even, in many instances, has suspended all public Masses. There are those, myself included, who initially reacted to this suspension in a negative way. But I have come to a clear conclusion that this suspension of public Masses, though a terrible deprivation in a real way, is for the good of the Church as well as society.
That this is good for society is clear, in that the chief way of stopping the spread of the virus is self-isolation. The virus cannot spread if people are not in contact. That this self-isolation comes at great cost to so many institutions and people is painfully obvious. Even the government programs that have been initiated to help people who will suffer because of this policy cannot eliminate the pain that those who must close their restaurants and their theaters and their sports events and concerts and schools and colleges. But this self-isolation goes beyond this, for it forces us to forgo contact with friends. Those dinners with friends, the pick-up games of basketball with friends in the neighborhood, the book clubs, the card games at the local ethnic meeting place—but even occasions of joy like wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs parties, even these occasions of people being with people to express happiness and solidarity, even these occasions of “more than ten people” will no longer be possible for the next months, how many months we do not know. Uncharted territory indeed. But it will be in this uncharted territory, if it is lived and supported by the great majority of people, that we will find the means of the cleansing of both the terrible divisiveness that marks our society and also of the terrible forgetfulness of so many Catholics as to what their faith is about: namely, the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the basis of our faith.
Can it be that in this uncharted and painful territory that we will regain the sense of family and friendship? Can it be that in a painful world in which there is no Mass that Catholics can attend, a world in which no one receives Holy Communion, a world in which the Sacraments are not part of the “scene” of what it means to be Catholic, can it be that in this terrible deprivation that there will come forth the joyful and awe-ful reality of the Sacraments and of the Catholic faith in a rediscovery of the beauty and wonder and truth of the Catholic faith? “God works in his mysterious ways his wonders to perform.”