My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Imagine if a foreign power invaded the United States and demanded that we not go to work, remain confined to our homes, stop attending church services, and congregate in groups not larger than 10 people. We would see such restrictions on our liberty and as violations of our rights. But that is exactly what has happened with the enemy being, in this case, the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Wars are usually fought to preserve our freedoms and maintain our way of life. This certainly has been the case with the war against terrorism. In his address to the nation on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush said, “Today, fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. … These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. … The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight, and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business, as well.”
Remembering the fear of attack that so many of us felt on 9-11-2001, looking back at those events now, it is amazing how quickly our country returned to normal, with the possible exception of air travel, which continues to maintain tight security controls.
These days, in contrast, the coronavirus has succeeded in frightening our nation and indeed most of the world into chaos and retreat, with the functions of our government curtailed, our financial institutions reeling, and many sectors of the economy, education, and public life closed or at least impeded.
One factor that has fueled the public’s fear is the pervasive 24/7 drumbeat of news about the coronavirus in the newspapers and on television, radio, and the internet on computer screens and smartphones. One cannot watch or listen for even a few minutes without being bombarded with a flood of adverse statistics and dire predictions of worse things to come from supposed experts who often contradict each other.
Another factor exacerbating the situation is our contemporary culture’s fear of death, indeed, its inability to deal with death in any constructive or meaningful way. That may sound odd to some people, who may wonder: How can there be anything constructive or meaningful about death? So our culture simply chooses to avoid dealing with death, other than to try to deny its reality and to replace it with more palatable substitutes. For example, instead of saying someone has died, people say that person “has passed.” Instead of wakes and funerals, we now have “celebrations of life.” Cemeteries are being renamed “memorial gardens.”
Improved healthcare technologies and healthier lifestyles have also extended lifespans, thereby pushing the prospect of death further out into the future and allowing people to put the prospect of death into the background as something that we won’t have to deal with until we are much older. We also hope that scientists will find cures for most causes of death. But it was not that long ago that people had to face death early in life, with many children not surviving childbirth or childhood. Those who made it to adulthood often did not live more than a few decades. Three of my grandparents died in their 50s before I was born. For people today, if death is seemingly not imminent, why worry about it or even think about it?
While all of us fear death to some extent, it should come as no surprise that death is especially frightening to those who do not believe in God. After all, if there is no life after death, the prospect of collapsing into nothingness is rightfully terrifying. So instead of thinking about what happens after death, such people prefer to replace such thoughts with happy memories. Thus, “celebrations of life” and “memorial gardens” look to the past, while people of faith look to the future with confident hope of a better life to come.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11-25-26). For those who answer “yes” to this question, for people of faith, Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead shows us that there is a path to life. If we follow that path, death is no longer something to be avoided at all costs, but a reality for which we must prepare so that we too can share in the gift of eternal life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.