Okay, God, You Can Stop Now

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

After a long break for the coronavirus shutdown and the regular summer slowdown, I’m ready to reclaim my spot in the Rhode Island Catholic and resume writing “The Imitation of Christ.” I ended my last column in March with this question: What are the spiritual lessons of the coronavirus pandemic? Now, six months later, we can begin to answer that question.
Let me emphasize, first of all, that I don’t believe God sent this virus to punish us for our sins or to signal the end of the world. The pandemic happened because we live in an imperfect universe. Throughout history we’ve had, and will always have, pandemics, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires, along with personal illnesses, accidents and misfortunes of every sort.
Nonetheless, there are some practical lessons we can discern from the pandemic experience.
First, is that we’re not completely in control of our lives and fortunes. Many of us don’t appreciate changes in our routines; we don’t like surprises, and we’d like to know what tomorrow will bring. Well, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re really not in control of the forces around us, and we can’t predict the future. Will the pandemic and its consequences end next month, in six months or in a year? Who knows! We’ve learned to roll with the punches, haven’t we?
The second lesson is that our behavior affects others. If we don’t take seriously the prescribed health precautions, e.g., wearing a mask and socially distancing, it can spread the illness and cause harm to others. And what’s true on a physical level is equally true in the spiritual realm. Our behavior, for good or ill, has an impact on our neighbors. Our righteous conduct and good example encourages others, but our sin contaminates society and brings us all down.
The third lesson from the pandemic is the need to keep our priorities in order. Activities we often took for granted have not been easily available – our attendance at Mass, our visits to relatives and friends, our desire to shop and travel when and where we want. The point? Every day we should treasure the blessings the Lord has given us as if they’ll disappear tomorrow, because maybe they will.
So, okay, God. You can stop now. You can take the virus away. We’ve learned our lessons.
Something to think about: What has been the most surprising thing that’s happened to you during the pandemic?