The Catholic Church, COVID and love
Letter to the Editor | Monday, April 12, 2021
A friend recently suggested that I should write a Letter to the Editor to the Observer. He didn’t say exactly what I should write about, just that I should write something.
What can the Catholic Church teach us about the continued COVID-19 pandemic? What are we to think when faced with physical evil on such a massive scale, an interloper into our modern world which technology had previously done so much to control according to our own desires?
One essential lesson I believe the Church can teach us in this crisis over the past year is humility; accepting the limits of our temporal existence, remaining ever aware of our own mortality in this vale of tears. The realities of sin and suffering are ever-present no matter how hard we try to dodge them. And there is nothing our human efforts can achieve independently of God’s grace that will bring us the eternal happiness we all seek but cannot find on this earth. In a certain sense, COVID merely accelerates and reminds us of the constant struggle we all must face in this life: the fact of our own mortality.
But the most essential lesson of all that the Church teaches us about sin and suffering cannot be articulated in words: Rather, it is embodied in a person, the person of Christ, whose victory over death on the cross is “our only hope.” None of us can live life without experiencing suffering to some extent. Even after that suffering is alleviated, the wounds of the past linger. Indeed, our world post-COVID will never be the same. The only constant through all this change is Christ, who asks us to leave all of our suffering with Him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).
There is a relationship between knowing and loving that this continued pandemic has seemed to reinforce like never before, especially here at Notre Dame. Friendships formed at Notre Dame before everything went crazy in March became frozen in time for months, and when everyone returned to campus in August we all had so much more love to give to each other. Although our familiar routines were upset, familiar people and places became outlets of our desire for communion in a way that felt profounder than we had experienced before. What we had previously taken for granted — campus, friendships, classes, football — felt like new gifts of unprecedented value.
But ultimately, this communion we have experienced with each other as Notre Dame students this successful academic year merely foreshadows our desire for something more: Union with Christ in heaven. Whether or not we live in “unprecedented times” now due to a global pandemic, the Church teaches us we must at all times orient our actions toward the goal of seeing God face to face. Along the way, we might be beset by tragedy, hurt, guilt, regret, sin, suffering and doubt, and we also might experience joys, successes, laughter, poetry, beauty, romance and love; these things which, as Robin Williams declares in Dead Poets Society, we stay alive for. But in the end, the Church teaches us, there is something still greater on the horizon; more than just “contributing a verse” as Williams and Walt Whitman would have it, the Church promises us we might sing a song with Him that never ends. All we truly desire is to know Him and therefore to love Him. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:12-13).
Let’s take a step back and think about how this promise of eternity might change the way we live our own lives and relate to others on an everyday basis. Let’s not get so caught up in our own immediate, often disordered loves here on earth that we direct our gaze away from love Himself. Let us desire Him who is love imperishable.
first-year law student
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.