Lent is a time during which Catholics return to the basic practices of the faith – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – to promote deeper conversion in our hearts. This Lent, the world is being presented with the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which should cause us to reflect on our own mortality and seek conversion.
When priests go to visit the sick, the suffering, and especially the dying, we encounter a wide range of people. Some people are serene as the end approaches, but others are profoundly unsettled when the prospect of death becomes real. Similarly, some people are experiencing a wake-up call from the spread of the coronavirus. The big questions loom large: “Who am I?” “What is the meaning and purpose of life?” “I am not in control of my life, and death could arrive. Is there a God and is there life after death?” Suddenly, the importance of the next life and the shortness of this life become real.
While most people don’t think about it deeply to recognize it, their reaction to the unknown, to sickness, and to things like the coronavirus is rooted in their fear of death.
As counterintuitive as it may seem to modern minds, Catholics in a state of grace should approach death with confidence because Jesus has conquered it through his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Through our Baptism into Christ, our sins are forgiven and our relationship with God is restored so that, for those in a state of grace, death is a bridge to eternal joy. As the funeral rite says, “life is changed, not ended.” Each time we receive the Eucharist, we remember the promise of the Lord, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6: 54).
And yet, the reality for many people is that they feel unprepared for their final judgment by the Lord, let alone the challenges of daily life. People clear out whole shelves at the supermarket because they are afraid of being caught unprepared. But do we clear out the spiritual shelves, expending every effort to make sure we are prepared for what might come?
Thankfully, the basic practices of the faith that are emphasized during Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – are the perfect starting point. All three of these practices help us reorient our hearts toward God and love for him in our neighbor.
These spiritual works are also beneficial in that they can still be carried out during the efforts the Church is making to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We can renew or begin a commitment to praying every day, sharing our hearts with the Lord and reading Scripture. We can discipline our wills by fasting from different foods or practices, which reminds us that our life and strength come from God alone, not anything else. And finally, we can financially support the poor and the needy. We also should give them alms of our prayers for the sick and suffering and those who are distant from God.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Colorado, you can read more about how the Archdiocese of Denver is responding at archden.org/coronavirus.
As we engage in the sacrifices of Lent, may each of us turn to our Mother Mary and ask her to accompany us in seeking out true conversion and to protect us in these times of uncertainty.