I think it is no coincidence that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is becoming more prevalent among us in this area during the Holy Season of Lent. For it seems likely that Satan is using this potentially debilitating or fatal virus to frustrate our Lenten plan by keeping us from acts of charity towards others, or attending Mass, or practicing self-control and self-denial. Yet while we are rightly concerned, let us also not be undone nor overcome with fear.
We should, of course, use common sense when dealing with any virus. Fever and shortness of breath appear to be the most common symptoms that distinguish this strain from the common cold. Therefore, if you suffer these symptoms or other flu-like symptoms, then by all means take care of yourself and act in love toward those with whom you may associate. (This may mean making choices about attendance at Mass.) As for my part, I will frequently clean my hands and will do all I can to ensure that our common spaces are clean.
Since the devil uses this, and other sicknesses, to drive a wedge between us and others, we should couple common sense with spiritual sense. To assist you with this, let me reflect on three phrases from the Our Father that we recite in our daily prayers and at church. For this prayer, and these phrases in particular, ought to help quell our fear and increase our confidence in our loving Father who directs and protects us at all times.
When we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are stating and acknowledging that things don’t spin out of control, but that Our Lord is the God even of viruses. This does not mean that God is the cause of sickness; that traces back to our corrupt condition. It means that our Father does not use these events to frustrate or frighten. That can be easy to forget as we increasingly hear concern about the virus’ spread. It is the devil that plays on our fears with these events to cause us to feel, believe, and think the worst for ourselves and our family. Yet our prayer reminds us that our Lord God always gets his way, and nothing—not even sickness—will prevent Him from doing what He knows is best for us. Remembering this, as we say, “Thy will be done,” gives us a perspective that is not fatalistic or fearful, but hopeful and calming.
“Give us this day our daily bread” is not simply about making sure we have food and the things we need. On a deeper level, these words also assure us that our heavenly Father arranges everything for our salvation. “In everything God works for good with those who love him.” (Rom 8.28) So when we are sick and when we are healthy, our Lord is not only in charge but also looking toward a greater purpose: life for Him and with Him both in this world and in the life of the world to come. Keeping in mind this longer view can certainly ease our hearts as well as our minds.
Finally, our prayer that our Father “deliver us from evil” means that we are confident that He will protect and guide us through even the worst. In the Mass, this petition is expanded to include “every evil past, present, and to come.” Too often, as we pray these words, we think only of big evils. But every evil includes all manner of sickness or injury. During this particular time, let us ask the intercessions of the Blessed Mother and the Saints, that Our Lord, by His lovingkindness, may keep us and our loved ones “safe from all disquietude” (i.e., everything that unsettles us). And as we say that prayer, our fears will subside since our faith is that our Father makes good on His promise to help and deliver us.
Certainly, we need to take this and other influenza viruses seriously. Yet let us not be overwhelmed. Common sense helps when sickness is rampant. And if we add the spiritual sense that I’ve briefly mentioned above, then our fears will decline, and we’ll be able to continue our Lenten plan of charity, self-control, and prayer together and individually.
May God be merciful to us and bless us!