How do faithful Catholics handle times of crisis?
The recent COVID-19 pandemic leading to the shutdown of businesses, schools, and church gatherings, including the celebration of the Eucharist, has caused a significant disruption in daily living for most Americans. The threat to life and the drastic efforts to contain the virus have fostered anxiety and blame. Although we don’t know when, one day, life will get back to normal. That is until the next crisis.
In the last 20 years, we’ve experienced a deadly terrorist attack (“911”), two wars, several potential epidemics from novel viruses, devastating hurricanes, and a major economic downturn resulting in the loss of jobs, homes, and retirement savings. If the news media doesn’t have a disaster to feed on, it’s busy warning us about global warming, exposing the latest scandal, pushing social agendas, and attacking or glorifying political figures. If the media ever was only about informing, it left that practice in the dust a long time ago. Now, news outlets work to create a response in their audience. Sensational and narrative-driven reporting not only increases the number of viewers, but the industry sees it as its moral calling.
All of this takes a toll on us. Besides events causing fear and anger, media coverage further fans the flames of these emotions. Given how hard daily living already is without added pressures, it’s no wonder that so many people experience a near-constant state of stress. Some try to handle it by tuning it out. But, is it really better to become indifferent and self-centered and no longer care about others or things that matter?
If we’re Catholics who seek to follow Christ every day, how should we handle all of this? Is it wrong to feel fear, anger, or indifference? Should we avoid the whole mess so we can at least maintain some sanity? How should disciples respond in times like these?
First, we need to take a fresh look at everything from the viewpoint of the kingdom of God. It is rare to see a newscaster, celebrity, or politician adopt this perspective. We should reflect on the thoughts, emotions, and calls to action stimulated by the difficult circumstances we encounter and the messages we hear. There are many ways to judge the morality of the choices presented to us, but here are three questions we can use to test the options.
First, would one course of action prevent me from doing good or cause me to do evil as a way of promoting something good? The media and special interest groups present half-truths that appear to support what is right, until one probes a bit deeper and finds that the very opposite is true. People use these arguments to promote abortion, gay marriage, transgenderism in schools, socialism, and authoritarianism.
Second, does this option influence me to abandon one of the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, or temperance? One falls into this error when choosing selfishness, pushing one’s rights to the detriment of others, or when rejecting the Church and its teachings.
The third test is the best and simplest: Will this cause me to sin against charity? In the end, all immoral choices either sin against the love for God or neighbor. When does charity ever justify hostility, name-calling, manipulation, and pre-judging others? Yet the media frequently uses these tactics and urges their audience to do the same. There is no charity during a crisis when one hoards goods without regard for others. What charity is there in blaming and denouncing public officials who make an honest mistake while trying to fulfill their duty?
Instead, during times of crisis and stress, the Spirit calls Catholic disciples to trust in the Lord, to love sacrificially, and to live with heroic virtue. What virtues? Patience, prudence, gentleness, justice, fortitude, self-control, courage, generosity, and piety. The saints followed these practices throughout the centuries. One continues to pray daily, to read and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures, to stay in touch with and encourage other believers, and to faithfully obey God’s will. Although we cannot celebrate the Mass together, this is no time for slacking. Instead, when life turns tough and we feel tempted to give in to anger, fear, selfishness, and frustration, we should redouble our efforts to do the opposite and imitate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.