Father Eric J. Banecker

In the first half of March, I presided at my sister’s wedding, ate at a couple restaurants, heard dozens of confessions at Lenten penance services, and took a few swings at a lunchtime schoolyard baseball game. Yet all of that seems a decade ago.

While many of us have settled into some semblance of a routine (perhaps just out of sheer survival), at this point many people seem frustrated, tense, and, well, sick of it all. Yes, the love of neighbor and the desire to prevent sickness and death is real and of paramount importance. But we are also social creatures, made for society, and for real community, one which Zoom simply cannot substitute for.

On the bright side, this time also gives more time for interior renewal through study and prayer. The slower pace of life also allows more time for reflection. Here are a few items that have caught my attention during this quarantine:

“Life-sustaining.” This is a term that has certainly carried much water, at least here in Pennsylvania. We are told that life-sustaining businesses can remain open, and that we should only leave the house for life-sustaining reasons. Fair enough. But most people seem to have expanded their own personal list of life-sustaining activities as this has worn on.

At first, I think many kept to a strict regimen of grocery store if absolutely necessary, checking on a sick relative from outside, and that’s about it. Now, happily, car parades, trout fishing, and (as of May 1) golf outings have become part of our “life-sustaining” activities.

I happen to like this. It’s both a sign that things are improving, and also just a little commentary on our quirky human tendencies. We should remember that Jesus said that he came “that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Jesus Christ died and rose again to give us true life. His desire for us is so much greater than physical sustenance. He gives each of us a share in his Divine life through baptism a life which flourishes no matter what the situation in the world is! He wants a life for us which abounds in love, joy, and! We must never forget that sustaining that life – our Christian life – is the one thing necessary, and what is truly “essential.

Vulnerable Populations. Rightly so, we have been told to curtail our normal activities, not just for the benefit of our own health, but even more for the vulnerable members of our community, those whom this virus affects most severely. The stories of bodies piled up in nursing homes rightly horrifies us and reminds us that every human life has value, from conception to natural death – no matter what.

And it also causes me to examine myself: how often do I contribute – even in subtle ways – to what Pope Francis calls “the globalization of indifference” and “the throwaway culture.” Residents in nursing homes, prisoners, homeless people: these are always vulnerable members of our population, not just during covid. The elderly, the unborn, and the disabled, as well, are often considered expendable by our society.

Are there lives I consider less important? Are there people or problems I prefer to ignore so I can continue living as I want? I pray that our “new normal” places love for

God and others – especially those who suffer – at the absolute center of our lives.

Hope for Humanity. While the Twitterverse and cable news crowd use the covid-19 epidemic as a political javelin, most ordinary people are carrying on with their lives in respectful and socially conscious ways. It is refreshing to see people in a grocery store trying to keep their distance and wear their masks, while also thanking the clerks, or the medical staff in the hospitals, or anyone else who is on the front lines. People are volunteering to buy groceries, give blood, make sandwiches. It is a reminder that despite our differences, most Americans are good, decent, civic-minded people who want to raise their families and do the right thing.

For us as Catholic Christians, our goal is to remind ourselves and others that all goodness in our lives and in the world comes from God, and that our highest good is to worship him as a communion of believers. Joyful, unassuming Christianity has the same attractive power as it had in the time of the Apostles.

Finally, a commentary on the word “grim.” I can say without hesitation that I have never seen this word in print as often as I have in the last month. Honestly, is it possible that journalists don’t know that MS Word has a thesaurus feature? Reports of fatalities are “grim.” The economic news is “grim.” New York’s situation is the “grimmest” of all.

I understand that the word has a harsh, Germanic sound to it which is not inappropriate for the occasion. But at a time when people are stuck in their home and glued to media reports, the word just makes us more anxious and fearful!

This is a crisis in which many people are dying, getting sick, or being affected in some way. We are right to treat it with utmost seriousness. But hearing this word ad nauseum is, well, grim.

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Father Banecker is parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish, Broomall.