Reality Check

March 14, 2020

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

I’ve recently come to embrace the idea that a crisis is not in itself a problem but rather a situation that brings pre-existing problems to the fore in a way that they can no longer be ignored. Every problem we try to sweep under the rug will eventually have its day—chickens eventually come home to roost.

The current pandemic is both a problem and a crisis. Yes, the disease itself has resulted in premature deaths and great discomfort. As it gathers steam though, the coronavirus reveals to us the corruption of certain governments limiting access to valuable information, woefully inadequate public health structures, and the perils of economic injustice. I’m sure that there are people somewhere who have had a wonderful and carefree week, but they’re probably not reading this blog post right now.

I’ve never been one to worry much about being sick. In all likelihood, the worst this virus would do to me physically is cause a bit of discomfort. My real concern is that I don’t want to catch and transmit this illness to somebody more vulnerable than myself. On the abstract level, I would hate to be part of the story of COVID-19’s spread. On the more concrete level, one of the brothers I live with is 83 years old.

I don’t like panic and overreaction. I recognize the utility of fear in survival situations, but I don’t see it as something that leads to satisfying life choices. So what is prudent? Because I need to maintain my health in order to keep those around me healthy, I am actively limiting my contact with other people. On the other hand, we need to retain our humanity. In this kind of situation, is meeting up socially with a friend an unnecessary risk? Or is it actually even more important than going to a work meeting that could be rescheduled, postponed, or conducted virtually? While I’m feeling moved to an unusual degree of caution right now, I find myself wondering how to exercise prudence while still conveying hope rather than anxiety. For those of us not in positions of authority, this dilemma may be the challenge of the day.

Our Marist heritage encourages us to always read the signs of the times. Old practices don’t necessarily respond adequately to new realities. When the ebola epidemic hit Western Africa a few years back, schools in Liberia were closed, requiring our Marist Brothers there to find other ways to serve those in need. We don’t yet know the extent to which changes in our life patterns are unfolding before our eyes, nor how temporary or enduring any particular change may be. Yet even in all this uncertainty, God invites each of us to something.

To what is God inviting you?

I am among those who find my schedule loosening up as various engagements get cancelled or postponed. There is still work for me to do, and maybe even new opportunities that I will uncover. In the meanwhile though, I have the chance to slow down and breathe. I am reminded of Pope Pius VII who was kidnapped and imprisoned on the orders of Napoleon. Pius spent his five years of captivity much the same as if he were in a hermitage back in the Benedictine monastery that used to be his home. Even prison could not truly imprison him. I suspect that I too am being invited into an unchosen sabbath, albeit a less dramatically austere one.

Maybe this moment in time will reveal to me other invitations that God has for me. Do I have a new role to play in responding to the present suffering out in the community? Am I to simply assume a different function among the brothers with whom I live? How should I be using the unrequested gift of time to practice healthier personal habits?

There is much to consider, and much time for such considerations.


This week’s ‘ear candy’ employs beautifully soothing melody to contemplate change and uncertainty. You probably know the song already. The ‘brain food’ illustrates one of the ways in which the poor continue to suffer, especially in the midst of the growing disruption due to the coronavirus. Catholic social teaching encourages us all to consider first how the poor and vulnerable are affected by any situation or decision—here is an example of just that.

Ear Candy: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

Brain Food: “Hunger Is on the Rise. Food Donors Are Getting Creative.” by Kaya Laterman

Come back next Saturday for a new post!