Source: The New Yorker
In the time of the coronavirus, the symbolic motifs of religion have turned literal. Lent, the forty-day season of preparation for Easter, is usually a time of symbolic deprivation: giving up meat on Fridays, giving up chocolate, giving up unkindness, giving up carbon. This year—Lent began on February 26th—the coronavirus has demanded quite literal deprivation: no going out, no eating out, no shopping, no seeing friends. For too many people, it has brought the pain of job loss, illness, and death. Ambulance sirens ring out constantly in the otherwise empty streets of New York City, in what would normally be a time of seasonal renewal and spiritual hope, bringing to mind two essentially Biblical responses to this moment. One is the hope that the virus will “pass over” our homes, especially if we “mark” them by doing all the right things (washing our hands, disinfecting the counters, stocking the freezer). The other is the expectation that a time of self-sacrifice will eventually come for us all, and with it the hope that self-sacrifice is part of our better nature, and has implications beyond ourselves. We have already seen extraordinary self-sacrifice on the part of the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and ambulance drivers who daily put themselves in the way of the coronavirus to care for others.
A religion that cannot speak with authority to the suffering and death all around us would seem to be no religion at all. What, then, does Pope Francis, the spiritual leader to more than a billion people around the world, have to say to all this? Catholics have watched and listened to him for weeks, as the pandemic has put both the Pope and the habits of their faith to a test—but also made the central themes of his pontificate especially apt….