Someone asked the question ‘What is God trying to tell us by the pandemic?’ God does not intervene with a pandemic to make a point or get people to think. Nevertheless it is important for us to pause and reflect how the Holy Spirit might be guiding us. The words of Psalm 45/46 ‘Be still and know that I am God, supreme on the earth, supreme over all’ immediately came to my mind. We all seem to have forgotten that. People often seem to behave as if humans can do anything, and control everything, if not right now, then they think that they will soon acquire that ability. At our local level, we fix dates for oblate retreats, people book to be present, and we all expect that they will take place, but now, so far, we have had to cancel two. So the present circumstances teach us very clearly that we are not in charge. We can make our plans, but we cannot be sure they will happen. We all need to become more humble, and be aware that we are dependent on God. In future we need to keep in mind when planning Deo volente God willing. As St Benedict teaches one should keep the fear of God before one’s eyes. (c.f. RB 7:10)
One of the blessings to have come out of the present situation is the great spirit of kindness and service that has been awakened in many people, from those medical professionals on the front line, to the people who volunteer to make sure the elderly and home-bound have enough food, to those who drive delivery vehicles, to those working in shops, transport and all the public services.
When normality returns, it is imperative that we do not regress into the way we were before, but maintain that spirit of kindliness and public service that has appeared. Society must ensure that those people who now are seen as indispensable continue to be valued after the crisis has passed and recompensed adequately.
When we hear of the daily death rate from coronavirus, we should also consider that approximately 25,000 people each day, or 15 each minute, die from starvation, and then ask which is the greater crisis. Is this a clarion call for us to think seriously about the way we organise the world so that the poorer people can always receive adequate food and services? The present system of economic growth favours the wealthy in all areas, which is incompatible with Christian belief. If the coronavirus crisis had been confined to the developing counties, it would have made much less news, the fact that is concerns everyone everywhere, forces us all to take stock. Just going back to the way things were will not be good enough: we can and must accomplish more than that.
Is it significant that there has been a great increase in the number of people signing up for the Holy Trinity Brompton Alpha Course, that the number of bibles being sold has grown enormously and that churches which have been live-streaming their services are reporting great numbers attending, for instance, St James, Reading, had over 3000 watching the Mass one Sunday? Will this lead to an increase in faith and/or in religious practice after the crisis is over?
Father Gervase Holdaway OSB