“You really think God cares who wins the Super Bowl?” my brother-in-law asked a few years ago. Given the incredible comeback, I shrugged and explained that it seemed to me if God cares intimately about our lives and planned the smallest details for our benefit, it seems like the Super Bowl would be included in that. Especially given how important and life changing it can be for players, coaches, employees, even fans. Global events don’t often seem to have a personal meaning to us, but as I have been sharing with a number of clients recently, if we believe in a God that “numbers the hairs on our heads,” (Mt 10:30) who “works for the good of those who love Him,”(Rom 8:28), then there is a particular way God wants us as individuals to respond to the current Coronavirus situation. Recently I heard Sister Miriam from the Abiding Together podcast note that the Coronavirus and its subsequent unfolding, was occurring during Lent. With the old saying “With God there are no coincidences” in mind, I reflected on the significance of this. During our Church's penitential season, we are given an opportunity to note the gifts we have received from God that we often take for granted, refocus on what truly matters, and be drawn into a deeper reliance on God. If we can accept the uncertainty of the moment, we can move create positive change in areas we can control. For me the key to this moment in time, to paraphrase St. Padre Pio, is not to ask why but what. What are we called to do now that we find ourselves here?
As restrictions on group gatherings are put in place, and masses have been cancelled for the first time in my lifetime, we are very much in uncharted territory. It is easy to get swept up in fear and turn our mentality to one of self-preservation. But this mentality leads to selfishness, and God calls us to act out of love and not fear. In therapy we often work on reframing situations or shifting focus from the negative aspects of our life circumstances toward positive resources, events and possibilities. By doing so we can often empower clients to focus on the positives that they can control and bring about healthy growth and change.
Over the past few days, I have seen positive developments that I'd like to share and continue to focus on in my own life. A number of education-based websites that provide online educational programs for a subscription fee are allowing families free access to help with schools being closed. I just saw a heartwarming article where a man was able to continue visiting his elderly father whose nursing home was locked down by sitting outside his closed window and speaking over the phone. A friend from church ran into my wife at the supermarket buying groceries and offered to share eggs from her chickens if we ran out. These are examples of our current situation bringing out what is best in us. We need to find ways to preserve connection, community and goodwill in this time of isolation.
We can continue Bible studies over the phone or using video conferencing, share our resources, and check on friends and loved ones throughout the country we've lost contact with. We must be “shrewd as serpents” (Mt 10:16), not in hoarding supplies, but in caring for one another and keeping our communities intact. We must follow the lead of a young Karol Wojtyla who preserved community and culture performing plays and poetry in homes as part of the Rhapsodic Theater during World War II Poland and the years following under Nazi and Soviet occupation respectively. Be creative in being life giving in your present circumstances and finding ways to use your gifts to provide peace and hope in our turbulent times.
This past week my family and I were preparing for our first family trip in over a year. We cancelled our plans due to Coronavirus concerns. But having already taken the week off of work, I tried to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time and reconnect with my family. We have been able during this time to have intimate conversations, play board games, paint and bake together. The family is the most basic cell of the church, so in this time of parish activities being suspended, we must shore up our own domestic churches.
I'd like to close with the words from C.S. Lewis' essay entitled Living in an Atomic Age. The excerpt I'd like to share pertains to a recommendation on how we are to live in spite of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Lewis speaks of living with the possibility of atomic war, but the parallels to our current situation are applicable. He states, "if we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds (Lewis, 2017)." Although we cannot control our life circumstances, it is empowering to know that we can always control how we choose to respond to them.
Peace, Mark Martinez MA, LPC