“Can you believe we can’t even shake hands at the sign of peace?” texted a friend, adding an eyeroll emoticon.
“Where is the holy water?” another friend demanded as we entered our parish church. “I need to take some home to bless my granddaughter.”
“Italy’s on lockdown,” a neighbor said. “I heard the Pope is caged in the library and speaking only by video.”
Schools are closed, flights cancelled, sports seasons abruptly ended. Markets have plummeted; global supply chains are snarled. Supermarket shelves have some telltale bare spots: hand sanitizers and household cleaners are out of stock, as are a number of other items.
Public Masses have been suspended outright in some dioceses, or the faithful have at least been dispensed from their Sunday obligation. Services, celebrations and pilgrimages in other faiths are being similarly curtailed.
All because of a molecule that’s far smaller than a single cell of blood.
The coronavirus has cascaded across the globe, infecting more than 132,000 and killing over 5,000 in 123 countries to date. The estimated death rate ranges from 1% to 4%, according to experts, with the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions at greatest risk. Most who contract the virus will experience only mild to moderate symptoms that they may mistake for the flu or the common cold.
Right now, we’re washing our hands, then wringing them as we ask if we’re doing enough to contain the virus. Others are protesting against a “plague panic” (fueled, some would say, by media frenzy and political concerns) that is now starting to impact more and more areas of our lives.
I’m not sure if our reactions are on target or out of balance; I feel a kind of vertigo in trying to keep up with it all, since the headlines are breaking faster than waves on a beach.
I’m praying for those who have lost lives, loved ones, freedom of movement, finances and even faith because of this sickness. My heart aches at the thought of Masses unsaid, and Christ in his eucharistic presence unreceived by souls that need him more than ever. Never in my lifetime did I imagine a day when the Lord’s table would be bare (at least for the laity), however empty his house may seem of late.
Yet in the past week, I’ve also been reflecting on a powerful insight from Meghan Cokeley, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. During one of her acclaimed presentations on “The Role of the Laity in a Time of Crisis,” she displayed an image of Meynier’s “Christ Asleep in His Boat,” in which Jesus sleeps on a cushion in the back of a boat amid raging waters, while the disciples plead with him to awaken and save them (Mk 4:35-41; Mt 8:18, 23-27; Lk 8:22-25).
“The reason Jesus is asleep is because he knows who his Father is, and he is anchored in his Father,” Meghan said. “His Father’s got this.”
And especially in the worst of times, she added, we need to make our way to the stern of the boat so we can “curl up next to Jesus,” and let him calm the storms that rage without and within.
Last evening, Meghan reminded me once again to do just that. As I slogged through late breaking news stories and emails on the coronavirus, she texted me the information I’d really sought:
“Rest on that cushion with Him tonight.”
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