A Catholic & the Coronavirus: Facing Fear with Faith in the Epicenter of the Epidemic

When news of COVID-19 first broke, it seemed so distant. Not that I wasn’t concerned for those suffering in China, not that my heart didn’t break for the doctor who succumbed to the disease after being suppressed by his government. But it was literally on the other side of the world.

Then it came home.

I was at my parish last Friday night when we learned of the first American death from the novel coronavirus. It happened at a hospital less than five miles away. The hospital where my oldest child was born. The hospital where, four years ago, my husband was treated for cancer. Our hospital. Our town.

Almost immediately, the community kicked into action. We wanted answers, and we wanted them yesterday. Who is at risk? How does it spread? What’s the mortality rate? How long is in the incubation period?

Nearly a week later, we have answers to most of our questions. We have also lost nine of our neighbors. We’ve been told by the local medical community to expect reports of confirmed cases–and the death toll–to continue climbing for the foreseeable future. With a two-week incubation period, the virus is, at least for our community, unavoidable.

I’m fortunate. Neither I nor my husband and children are at elevated risk from COVID-19. We do have extended family who are considered high risk. We have friends who work in the medical community, whose children are immunocompromised or have serious cardiac or respiratory conditions.

Given all these things, I’ve wondered, and I’ve prayed: How do I, as a Catholic living in the American epicenter of this epidemic, respond?

I’m not a medical expert. I’m not a priest. I’m simply a wife and mother trying to live out my Catholic faith to the best of my ability in a time of uncertainty. These are my thoughts.

1. Pray.

This goes without saying, but I figure it’s worth saying anyway. I’m stretching myself beyond praying for my own family to pray for those who are at higher risk, either of contracting the disease or of suffering serious complications from it. I pray for our doctors and nurses and teachers. I pray for the dead. I pray for those they’ve left behind. I pray for those who are afraid, that God would be near to them, and that his perfect love will cast out that fear. I pray for containment.

2. Speak truth.

In our fast-paced media world, it can be difficult to find the truth in all the noise. There has been admitted hysteria around the coronavirus. There are also sources claiming it’s sensationalized, a ploy to pad the pockets of pharmaceutical companies when a treatment or vaccine is finally made available. I’m working hard to seek out primary sources and to fact check what I read and hear. When I don’t know the answer, I strive to be humble, admit as much, and wait to speak until I know more.

3. Act with charity.

We all have different ways of dealing with fearful situations. I don’t believe it’s helpful or kind to force my own way of dealing onto another person. When someone’s fear exceeds my own, I don’t dismiss their experience or make them feel foolish for being afraid. When my fear exceeds someone else’s, I strive not to foist my fears on them or persuade them to “face the facts.” I think it’s important to face a crisis with a healthy dose of charity, being sensitive to the needs of others, and more ready to listen than to preach.

I also want to consider the physical needs of my neighbors. For example, I don’t really need ten bottles of hand sanitizer, so I’ll choose not buy them, even though I know they’ll be gone tomorrow. Because someone else might actually need one.

Similarly, if one of my kids is coughing, I’m going to choose to keep them home, even if it’s inconvenient for our family, even if we’re missing out on something I really want to do. This is what I’d do anyway, but I’m especially sensitive to the particular anxieties of our community right now. And who knows? My kid really could have the coronavirus. Particularly for the sake of others, I want to play my part in avoiding the spread if I can.

3b. with regard to Holy Mass.

Our diocese has been very proactive in addressing COVID-19. The holy water fonts of our parishes have been emptied as a preventative measure. Our archbishop has instructed us not to shake hands before Mass or during the kiss of peace. The Precious Blood will not be offered to the laity until further notice. We have been instructed to receive the host only in our hand, not on the tongue.

I have to be honest, these changes are hard for me. I always receive the Eucharist on the tongue. I have friends with Celiac disease who can only receive under the species of the wine. I love the kiss of peace, and my children love to bless themselves at the fonts. I will miss these things. I’ve also accepted them as necessary under the circumstances, and I consider the momentary loss of them an act of charity.

Our bishops have also reminded us that we are not obligated to attend Sunday Mass if ill. In fact, it’s good not to put our neighbors at risk, especially the elderly and others who are at elevated risk of complications. (Again, this is good policy regardless of the coronavirus, but reminders are helpful.)

4. Hope, and don’t worry.

Famous as the saying, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry…” is, it took me awhile to get on board with St. Padre Pio. That was because for a long time, I’d confused the emotion fear with the action worry. It’s not wrong to be afraid. Even the Blessed Mother needed encouragement from Gabriel, “Do not be afraid, Mary!”

God doesn’t expect us never to be afraid–but He tells us not to dwell in fear. Why? Because He is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. The nearer we are to Him, the more fully we trust in the ultimate goodness of his plan, the less afraid we will be. He wants us to trust Him.

It’s a choice that I, for one, need to continually make. When fear pricks, I need to make a choice: Do I trust Him with this? In this moment, in spite of everything, do I believe his plans for me are good? Sometimes it’s an easy choice, sometimes it isn’t.

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It can be challenging to choose faith in the face of fear. Whether it’s the coronavirus we’re facing or cancer or some other threat to ourselves or those we love. Faith doesn’t immunize us from fear–but it is the antidote for it.

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless.”

Because God is good. All the time. Because we have a Savior who conquers every fear–even death. Because He is Love itself, and perfect love drives out fear.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

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