As COVID-19 spreads, will we be more like the saints?

How to help your neighbor during the pandemic

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How would the saints act if they were in our position? The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has certainly caused various reactions – some have chosen to monitor the situation while others have fled to the stores to try to stock up on toilet paper and frozen foods.

There’s no doubt that the latter act out of care for their loved ones and want to make sure they have the necessary means in case the worst happens. Yet, as Christians, we are called to something greater. The problem is that in the type of behavior previously described, there’s a limited vision of the human person, of the family and of our mission as Christians. The human person and the family are, by essence, social. They cannot become isolated from everything or everyone else. We clearly depend on one another.

While the care and safety of our family is our primary mission, will we, as Christians, retrieve into ourselves or will we choose to look outwardly, love our neighbor as ourselves and serve the common good?

Therefore, in these times, Christian should rightfully ask: “What’s my role?” “What should I do?” “What is God calling me to do?”

They’re important questions that guide us to the true and the good, and lead us on a path of holiness, like the saints before us.

So, to answer these questions, let us look to the example of a few saints who have faced similar or worse circumstances.

THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAINTS

The great thing about the saints is that they participated in caring for others, each according to his own position. If we want to serve others during this time, we must first know our position in life and act accordingly.

St. Charles Borromeo | Persons in Authority


The Archbishop of Milan represents those in authority who have a large number of people under their care.

Milan not only faced a famine and plague outbreak from 1576 to 1577, but also the consequences of the cowardice of their governor and many nobility, who fled the city as things got out of control. Thankfully, Archbishop Borromeo, the other figure who exerted authority in the city, took the responsibility to fight the plague. He issued guidelines to prevent the further spread of the plague, organized volunteers and medical experts at hospitals to best tend to the poor and sick, and used all of his personal resources and other resources available to provide food for the hungry, feeding from 60 to 70 thousand people daily.

So, for people with authority, their mission is to implement the appropriate measures to prevent the spread of disease, to tend for those under their care and to provide the necessary means for their survival.

St. Rocco and St. Damien of Molokai | Medical Professionals

Both of these saints represent those who are in a position to help more directly tend to those in need, mainly doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

These saints provide an opportunity for reflection, as they risked their lives by tending to those who were infected. They did not serve the needy thinking that their faith would save them from getting infected, rather, they did it knowing that they could very well die doing it.

St. Rocco is an example of someone who miraculously survived the plague in Italy during the 14th century. He travelled throughout Italy healing people and was himself miraculously healed from his sores.

St. Damian is another example. He traveled to a Hawaiian leper colony to tend to the sick. He found the place was poorly maintained and that immorality and misbehavior were prominent. In his years of service, Father Damien contracted leprosy and eventually died from it.

For medical professionals the example and intercession of both of these saints can be of great help.

The saints next door | The rest of us

But the question lingers: Where is my place if I’m not a medical professional or a person in authority?

This example is best reflected by the great number of saints who we probably don’t know about, those saints who served their families and their neighbors with love, and followed the just measures implemented by people in authority for the common good.

We are called to be those “saints next door,” as Pope Francis said. But how?

While everybody else is looking to stock up on what they think they need, we can ask to see what our neighbors need. Of course, all of these actions should be done with the appropriate precautions, so as to not contribute to the spread of the virus, which, in itself, is a great contribution to the common good.

  • Pray for your neighbor and for all of those who are suffering due to the current situation.
  • Offer to babysit for your neighbor if you see they need it.
  • Offer to bring a home-cooked meal.
  • Ask them how they are doing and if they are stressed about the current situation.
  • Ask if they have any material needs.
  • Exchange phone numbers so you can check up on them if they get sick or in case there’s an emergency.
  • Stay home if you’re sick. This may be the hardest one for many people but staying home can be an act of charity, humility and penance, knowing that you’re protecting others from also getting sick. That’s the best favor you can do to them.

As we continue in our Lenten practices, let us make this an opportunity to examine our lives and see how, according to our state and position in life, we can look beyond ourselves and follow the example of Christ and the saints.

COMING UP: AM[D]G           

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Last November 11, on the centenary of its relocation to a 93-acre campus in suburban Washington, D.C., Georgetown Preparatory School announced a $60 million capital campaign. In his message for the opening of the campaign, Georgetown Prep’s president, Father James Van Dyke, SJ, said that, in addition to improving the school’s residential facilities, the campaign intended to boost Prep’s endowment to meet increasing demands for financial aid. Like other high-end Catholic secondary schools, Georgetown Prep is rightly concerned about pricing itself out of reach of most families. So Prep’s determination to make itself more affordable through an enhanced endowment capable of funding scholarships and other forms of financial aid for less-than-wealthy students is all to the good.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God], often reduced to the abbreviation, AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns. That was not good news. Nor was I reassured by pondering Father Van Dyke’s campaign-opening message, in which the words “Jesus Christ” did not appear. Neither did Pope Francis’s call for the Church’s institutions to prepare missionary disciples as part of what the Pope has called a “Church permanently in mission.” And neither did the word “God,” save for a closing “Thanks, and God bless.”

Father Van Dyke did mention that “Ignatian values” were one of the “pillars” of Georgetown prep’s “reputation for excellence.” And he did conclude his message with a call for “men who will make a difference in a world that badly needs people who care, people who, in the words Ignatius wrote his best friend Francis Xavier as he sent him on the Society of Jesus’s first mission, will ‘set the world on fire’.” Fine. But ignition to what end?

Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies and on to East Asia to set the world on fire with love of the Lord Jesus Christ, by evangelizing those then known as “heathens” with the warmth of the Gospel and the enlivening flame of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. St. Ignatius was a New Evangelization man half a millennium before Pope St. John Paul II used the term. St. Ignatius’s chief “Ignatian value” was gloria Dei, the glory of God.

Forming young men into spiritually incandescent, intellectually formidable and courageous Christian disciples, radically conformed to Jesus Christ and just as deeply committed to converting the world, was the originating purpose of Jesuit schools in post-Reformation Europe. Those schools were not content to prepare generic “men for others;” they were passionately devoted to forming Catholic men for converting others, the “others” being those who had abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism or secular rationalism. That was why the Jesuits were hated and feared by powerful leaders with other agendas, be they Protestant monarchs like Elizabeth I of England or rationalist politicians like Portugal’s 18th-century prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

Religious education in U.S. Catholic elementary schools has been improved in recent decades. And we live in something of a golden age of Catholic campus ministry at American colleges and universities. It’s Catholic secondary education in the U.S. that remains to be thoroughly reformed so that Catholic high schools prepare future leaders of the New Evangelization: leaders who will bring others to Christ, heal a deeply wounded culture, and become agents of a sane politics. Jesuit secondary education, beginning with prominent and academically excellent schools like Georgetown Prep, could and should be at the forefront of that reform.

Jesuit secondary education is unlikely to provide that leadership, however, if its self-presentation brackets God and announces itself as committed to “the greater glory” of…whatever.