This Lent is different. Instead of fish fries and Stations of the Cross, we have closed schools and dispensed Mass obligations. In other dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, Masses were cancelled as of last weekend. On March 17, Bishop David Ricken has suspended Masses for 4-8 weeks. (See story, page 1.)
No one expected a pandemic. Despite initial promises that, by April, infections would drop to zero, cases are rising. As of March 17, 4,000+ cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the U.S., with 85 deaths. Worldwide deaths stood at 6,600.
This will be a long-term event. The last pandemic — Spanish flu — lasted two years. It came in waves, but killed 50-100 million people in 1918-19. With COVID-19, we in the United States are far from peak. Italy, the hardest hit in Europe so far and ahead of us, is at least one week from peak.
Already, on March 13, Catholic News Service in Rome reported that the Church of All Saints in a Bergamo cemetery in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region — housed dozens of coffins of people who died of COVID-19. Each day, between March 1 and March 13, at least 40 coffins stood inside awaiting cremation. The crematorium was working 24 hours a day and still had a five-day wait.
We must not become another Italy. We must do everything we can to slow this virus — “to flatten the curve.” Please practice sanitary measures. Listen to the Centers for Disease Control reports. Follow state and local recommendations/orders. Plan for an altered lifestyle of work, schools and social gatherings.
Most important of all, think of others. We are in this together. Don’t risk infecting others. Cover your mouth when you cough/sneeze. Don’t touch your face. Don’t get too close to others. Stay home when sick and get medical help if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Most medical facilities have activated online symptom screening.
This past weekend, local grocery stores had long lines. People stood close together, for up to a half hour, as they stocked up. What sort of risk did that raise? When you shop, make adjustments. Think it through and maybe return when the store is less crowded.
Don’t hoard. Stocking up is one thing. Stuffing carts with toilet paper and hand sanitizer is another. One local 24-hour grocery chain had to shut down last Saturday night to restock shelves. Think about others. Do you need all that toilet paper? All that hand sanitizer? What if someone else gets nothing?
COVID-19 is here. It will last a while. Longer than Lent.
But perhaps, even though many Lenten practices are on hold, our practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving remain. Let them guide us until this crisis abates.
Pray. Pray for those who are, or will be, sick. Pray for the dead and their families. Pray for health care workers. Pray for wisdom to act rightly. If you cannot attend Mass, pray an Act of Spiritual Communion: ewtn.com/catholicism/devotions/act-of-spiritual-communion-339.
Fast. Don’t hoard. Leave that extra toilet paper. Don’t gather in bars and restaurants. There are drive-ups and food delivery. Keep safe and fast from exposing others to COVID-19.
Give. Fasting doesn’t mean fasting from interaction with others. Call people. Email them. Check on friends and relatives via phone. Check on neighbors, especially the elderly and homebound. And give alms. While churches may be closed, they still have bills. They still need to help the most sick, the dying and the grieving. Food pantries and meal programs still feed the needy. Remember to send monetary donations.
COVID-19 need not overwhelm us. God is still here. And we, the Body of Christ, are still here.
As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world.”
By prayer, fasting and charity, we can do this. We can face COVID-19. Even in a time of social distancing, we can bond together. We can bring Christ into this time of crisis.
It may not be the Lent — and perhaps Easter and even Ordinary Time — we expected, but it can still be a time of spiritual growth.
— Patricia Kasten