‘Safer at home’ through the lens of Catholic social teaching

By Peter Weiss | Special To The Compass | April 29, 2020

As the living justice advocate for the Diocese of Green Bay, my role is to share the wisdom of Catholic social teaching. So, when I look at what’s happening in the world today, I view it through the lens of Catholic social teaching. When I do, I find strong support for accepting “Safer at home” as what is best for us right now.

The fundamental truth of Catholic social teaching is the belief that every life is sacred. So we must approach our understanding of any issue based on the impact that is has on human lives. There is much we are still learning about COVID-19, but one thing we do know is that some percentage of people who contract it will die.

Moreover, many others will get sick enough that they will have to spend time in a hospital. If we do not take steps to flatten the curve, there is risk that cases of COVID-19 will overrun our health care systems. This means even more people will die of COVID-19, as well as other diseases, because they were not able to access the care they needed. Given the lives at stake, and the fact that each person is a sacred child of God, we ought to do what we can to limit the spread of COVID-19 as much as is reasonably possible.

In addition to the belief that all life is sacred, Catholic social teaching proposes that human beings are social creatures. We were made for relationship, or as it says in Genesis about Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” As Catholics, then, we cannot look at our lives exclusively or primarily as individuals, we have to understand ourselves in relationship with the wider world.

In Catholic social teaching, we call this the common good. Looking out for the common good means that sometimes we are asked to do things that aren’t necessarily good or desirable for us, but they are good for society more broadly. While we can argue over what is truly good for society as a whole, in the current circumstances, I hope we can agree that fewer people getting sick and dying as a result of COVID-19 is good for society. I would call it a good worth sacrificing for.

Lastly, a key principle of Catholic social teaching is the “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.” This principle comes right from the example set by Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus give special attention and priority to those who struggle the most, placing their needs before his own. We are called to do the same. I may be less susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19, but when I consider the needs of people who are more vulnerable, I have a responsibility to do what I can to protect them. Right now, that means following the Safer at home guidelines.

There are no easy answers in this situation. Everyone is doing the best they can with incomplete information. But the principles of Catholic social teaching clearly support following Gov. Tony Evers’ directives. In the weeks and months ahead, we will have to ask difficult questions about the economy and the possibility for unintended consequences and secondary effects that could cause considerable harm, trauma and even death. But right now, and until we can ensure that we have the virus under control, those are secondary questions.

I acknowledge that this is a great sacrifice for us as Catholics to make, especially when it means being away from the Eucharist and our church community. I am grateful to all the people who are making this sacrifice despite the difficulties because it is helping to save lives and protect people in our community. In addition, not being able to participate in the sacraments does not mean that we cannot practice our faith.

There are countless opportunities for us to continue to actively participate in our faith both communally and individually. We should not take these opportunities for granted but use this time to deepen our faith and trust in God in new ways. Hopefully, when all this is done, we will have become better Catholics because of this time of sacrifice.

I do hope and pray that we will be able to gather again soon for Mass, as well as go back to work, and get together with our extended families — and get a haircut. Until then, let us pray that with God’s grace we can accept the challenges of this time and offer up our sufferings to God on behalf of those on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19.

Weiss is living justice advocate for the Diocese of Green Bay.

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