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Common Hope in a Surreal Pandemic

April 13, 2020


Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not him.—Fr. Cavanaugh, Rudy

When the considerable dust settles and the pedantic minds and punctilious grammarians have had their say, I’m willing to wager that the word of 2020 will be “surreal.”

Several months ago, who would have conceived that, in short order, our country would completely shut down? And now look at us: No kids in shockingly fluorescent soccer jerseys scrambling up and down a muddy soccer field. No Friday night at the movies followed by a pint or two at the local pub. Concerts are rescheduled. Sports are on hiatus. Restaurants have been shuttered. Businesses are now operating from family room couches and kitchen tables.

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The President briefs us daily. Television screens are awash with curves and tallies. We’ve seen more people in gowns, masks, and face shields than we have since Dustin Hoffman starred in the Ebola thriller Outbreak. And we have all found a new favorite uncle in Dr. Tony Fauci.

And who knew that toilet paper, Clorox bleach wipes, and frozen French fries would almost be worthy of the black market?

This is the pandemic of 2020.


But here is the thing: notwithstanding the threat of this illness to the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the frequently exposed, there has been something striking about what happens when we slow down and stay at home.

When is the last time you played so many board games, assembled puzzles, or had consistent engagement with your spouse and kids day after day?

How long has it been since you took so many walks?

When did you last appreciate your house for its different rooms, the driveway, and the backyard?

What have you realized about what you want and what you really need? What have you discovered about what you have said is important and what you have found is truly important?

When did you pray so much, laugh so much, and talk so much with your family?

How much have you hungered for your church community, your school community, your extended family, and your friends?

Perhaps the silver lining in this tragic disruption of society is that we are forced, at times, to sit down and be still. Yes, to consider the risks of illness and death. But also to consider life and what it truly means. Pope Benedict XVI once observed of our distracted, overly occupied lives, “Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God—there are too many different frequencies filling our ears.” As we reflect in these unparalleled times, we need to know what we can control and what we cannot. We need to resolve to be kinder, to be more intentional, to live for the things that truly matter and let go of the things that don’t. There is one sure truth about this pandemic that comes from ancient wisdom: this too shall pass.

As our social distancing, our lockdowns, and our quarantines drag on, let us remember that this earthly Lent we’ve just concluded—this time in the isolated wilderness, this era in the darkened tomb—was emphatically finished by the Christ of the Resurrection. Easter cries “Liberated!” to the prisons and catacombs of yesterday, as well as the hospital wards and family rooms of today. “You are free, my child,” we are told. “You are made well.”

Albert Camus’ seminal work The Plague takes place in a town on the Algerian coast quarantined amidst the ravages of the bubonic plague. Rieux, the physician and conscience of the tale, reminds his fearful and flagging friend, “There’s one thing I must tell you: there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency.”

In the weeks and months to come, for our families, friends, and that stranger we see (properly distanced) in a grocery store, pharmacy, or on the street, let’s say a prayer, share some hope, and practice common decency. For only a decency that emanates from the unconquerable hope of Christ—the risen Lord—can dispel the surreal existence we find ourselves in today. We are told in good confidence, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

Be hopeful. Be of good cheer.

Soon—very soon—we’ll be together again.