Reflecting upon Covid-19 makes me think of the words of Psalm 46 ‘Be still and know that I am God, exalted over nations, exalted over earth’. We are not in charge. For too long we have behaved and planned as if we were in complete control. We are not in control, God is, but too many people today think that science can control everything. Science has become a modern idol, give it sufficient worship and it will solve all our problems.
For people who lived a couple of centuries ago and earlier, plagues were a common expectancy, just think of the Black Death or the great plague of London in 1665-6, which gave rise to the popular game
Ring a ring o’roses
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down’
Liverpool suffered an epidemic of typhoid fever in 1847, Cholera was another disease which brought many epidemics throughout the nineteenth century, and indeed there was the Spanish flu of the last century.
When terror struck in earlier ages, for example no less than seven times during the Second World War, the Prime Minister would advise the King to call for a national day of prayer. Our present Prime Minister has not mentioned it, God has been edited out of the national consciousness, we think we can do without Him. Is this a sign that we live in godless society? Today people worship the cult of the economy. The economy is the reason/excuse repeatedly heard in the present crisis for doing or not doing something. It seems people are here to serve the economy as their god, whereas the economy should be a tool in the service of mankind, mankind as a whole, not just as a means whereby the rich can become richer. Herein is a challenge for us. We have to bring God back into the daily scene, not just of ourselves but of world around us, a challenge for all Benedictine Oblates out in the world.
We hear talk that after this crisis has passed everything will be able to return to where it was before, in as short a time as possible, a year or perhaps even five years. But will it? And should it? In the last ten months much has changed, and will never be the same again. This crisis should be seen not merely as a disaster but as an opportunity to refashion the world in ways which are more Christian. Now is the time to revisit what has been called the church’s greatest secret, its social teaching, and its ecological teaching and to see how we can rebuild to make the world, using modern technology, to be a more godly place. St Benedict can help us here.
Pandemics are not the only scourge at the present time. In this age of wealthy nations and easy communication it is a scandal that famines in many places bring about so many deaths A search on the internet brought this scandalous piece of information – Around 9 million people die every year of hunger and hunger-related diseases. This is more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. There is a challenge for every wealthy nation and for every person who has a vote.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the epidemic has coincided with the biggest signs we have seen of climate change, the vast fires in the United States and the increasing number of violent storms in many parts of the world. Environmental disaster threatens, today I read this report on the internet news, “Two-fifths of the world’s plants are at risk of extinction, with scientists in a race against time to find and save new species before they vanish, a report warns. At the same time, people are failing to access the many benefits plants and fungi could provide, such as new medicines, energy crops or food that is resilient to climate change, what opportunities are being missed and what is at risk of being lost.” In the words of Pope Francis we need to “hear the voice of the earth as well as the voice of the poor”.
In view of all these crises we need to ask how we, as followers of St Benedict should live in the present circumstances. A random perusal of the Rule can give us ideas, we need to reflect on these and try to practice them in our lives, and encourage others to do likewise:- RB 4:20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else. See also RB 31:10–11, 31:12, 32:4, 35:10, 57:4,. 57:7,72:7
Fr Gervase Holdaway (Oblate Director, Douai Abbey)