Updated: Feb 2
Albeit painfully slowly, and not without fits and starts, it seems we may be beginning to see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel. It seems some bureaucrats and politicians do not want to leave, and others fear that optimism may be premature. And while I am not qualified to give medical advice, I have witnessed that with the arrival of Omicron, and its mostly innocuous effects, many people are starting to see Covid as something akin to the flu. Governments like Ireland and England have already greatly reduced their once dramatic Covid restrictions.
Regardless of where one stands as to the vaccines, boosters, mandates, and all the other Covid-related social implications, I would like to suggest that we reflect upon one underlying principle at the heart of the issue: our society’s belief that physical health is the highest value.
Even before Covid was an issue, it was not uncommon to hear the phrase, ‘Well, at least we have our health, and that is the most important thing.’
Now, despite what I am about to say, I am pro-life. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical ‘The Gospel of Life’ defends life as the ‘fundamental right and source of all other rights.’[i] If you are not living, you can enjoy no other human right. That principle means that we must protect the life of the unborn, and everyone else - in all subsequent stages of life – until natural death. Consequently, we should work hard to prevent illness and to cure it when it does occur. Taking reasonable precautions to preserve one’s own health and the health of others is, well, reasonable. It is a grace and a blessing to be healthy. We should ask God for good health.
However, physical health is not the highest value. Jesus died on the cross for our salvation at the tender age of 33. Countless martyrs have laid down their lives for the faith – and the Church holds them up as examples. Soldiers have died defending their country. Numerous mothers and fathers have died to protect their children. Many have risked their lives for the good of perfect strangers. Pandemics were no exception:
‘When the bubonic plague struck Milan in 1576, the thirty-eight-year-old archbishop, Charles Borromeo, spared no expense and risked every danger in caring for the suffering… Mark Twain, describing him as he moved calmly amid the terrified people, stated… “He was brave where all others were cowards, full of compassion… cheering all, praying with all, helping all with hand, brain, and purse.” [ii]
There are things worth risking your life for, and yes, even dying for.
Interpersonal connection, family, and love are worth the risk. We were created for community. To live without that in-person contact is inhumane and dehumanizing. Our internet society already struggles with self-imposed isolation. Fear of Covid or unbalanced governmental restrictions in some places has made that isolation worse. Even the CDC admitted that teen suicide attempts surged during Covid lockdowns.[iii]
Granted, at times love for others requires us to separate from them – like a father going on an extended business trip in order to provide for his family, or, in extreme situations, a temporary quarantine. But this distance should be seen as an anomaly from which we make every effort to reconnect in-person as quickly as possible.
We must take care not to let the trauma of the past couple of years form in us the habit of principally viewing each other as potential sources of contagion. Rather, as Christians we are called to see Christ in all our brothers and sisters.
Yes, take the necessary precautions to preserve and protect life. Ask your doctor what that practically means for you – regarding Covid and any other health issue.
However, if we believe that there is nothing worth dying for, then we have to ask ourselves if we believe that there is anything worth living for. Physical life is the first and foundational human right – which we must protect and preserve – but it is not the ultimate purpose of our life. That is communion with God and neighbor – in this life and the next.
Living for God and neighbor is worth the risk.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
Thy Kingdom Come!
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[i] St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, Vatican. March 25, 1995, n. 72. [ii]’Slattery, Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization . Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition, loc. 796. [iii] Cf. ‘CDC: Teen Suicide Attempts Surged During COVID Lockdown’ in National Review. Caroline Downey. CDC: Teen Suicide Attempts Surged During COVID Lockdown (yahoo.com). June 12, 2021