A mask-wearing patient is wheeled to an ambulance in New York City March 26, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)
A mask-wearing patient is wheeled to an ambulance in New York City March 26, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent we continue to wonder how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Is social distancing enough to help flatten the curve? Some experts say the numbers of those who test positive will peak in New York State around May 1. Will virtual meetings with colleagues, friends, parishioners and family members be the norm for a while? Will more communities be required to shelter in place? What about those among us who are food insecure, unemployed, penniless or without any social lifeline? Should we pray? And, if we do, will God answer our prayers?   

I am reading Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. He began writing it during the Black Death in 1348. It is a tale of people who were faithful and faithless. The jacket description says it “recaptures the tragedies and comedies of life” at that time. 

An estimated 100-200 million people worldwide died during that great plague. People were frantic; they prayed, they did penance. They learned that their faith and whatever piety they practiced could not save them from sickness and death. Many of them abandoned their families and left town. They became angry with God and stopped believing. Are we praying for God to do something about COVID-19? Is God to blame? 

There is a difference between fideism and faith. Fideism is blind faith or faith without reason. One example is to believe that God will take care of everything without our assistance. Religious faith, on the other hand, helps us make sense of evil, diseases, pandemics and anything else that challenges us in life. This understanding of faith can help us realize that we are partners with God in all things created. We believe that the God of the entire cosmos is walking with us, holding our hands, hugging our bodies, during all of our journeys — good ones and bad. 

Early Christians survived persecutions because they networked, they unselfishly took care of each other. Some, it is reported, even sold their goods to provide for needy people. (Acts 2:45) We know we can endure this pandemic by helping one another to the extent possible given guidelines for social distancing and staying at home. 

But what then is the role of prayer during these troubling times? We Christians like those of other faiths pray frequently. Countless studies tell us that acts of prayer, meditation, and exercise can provide comfort, make us feel less anxious, foster positive attitudes and create experiences of healing.  

Today’s Gospel story about Jesus healing the blind man is a good one for us. The scripture scholar Reginald Fuller wrote that this healing is a Christological indication that Christ is the “light of the world.” (John 8:12; 9:5) This light is so bright it can snuff out whatever evil we encounter. The author of John intended to show how Jesus of Nazareth worked within his time. The second reading from the letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world in our own time. (Ephesians 5:8) 

Now that Catholics for the time being are not gathering for the Eucharist or any other sacramental ritual we have the opportunity to think about what it means for us to be called a “sacrament of unity.” The Eucharist does not magically create community. It is a celebration, an affirmation of our communion with one another and with God. This is why acts of social justice and the worship of God cannot be separate from one another. 

Today is Laetare Sunday. It is traditionally a time to take a joyful break from the rigors of the Lenten season. What can we be joyful about today? We could simply trust in God and take delight in believing that God will not test us beyond our ability to be tested. (1 Corinthians 10:13)  

We could also rejoice that we are not alone in this virus. We belong to a global family and all of us are suffering from the same disease. All of humanity is working to find a cure. This an opportunity to advocate for ways to set aside differences, to dissolve polarizations, to find a common ground, to open borders, to care for impoverished and oppressed members of our human family and to respect the planet itself.  

Peace and good health be with you.  

Fr. V 

Father Richard S. Vosko is a priest in the Diocese of Albany and liturgical design consultant who has overseen the redesign and renovation of numerous churches and cathedrals in the United States.