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Covid-19 crisis from the perspective of providence: A call to creative love

Friday 3rd April 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Covid-19 crisis from the perspective of providence: A call to creative love

Fr José Granados

In these days of Lent, we re-read the story of Israel’s departure from Egypt, when God delivered them from the scourge of plagues. 

The scene is poignantly brought to life by the epidemic that we are experiencing at the moment. It reminds us that God is no stranger to anything that happens to us. “My times are in your hands”, says the psalmist (Ps 31:15). 

Whoever lives the totality of their life according to faith in the Creator, must also live the Covid-19 crisis according to faith in the Creator.

Why the virus? What are its causes and effects? The biologist and the doctor can tell us something about these, as can the psychologist and the economist. But only faith offers the ultimate horizon that unifies these partial perspectives. The believer does not have all the answers, but knows who does. He knows Him and knows how to invoke Him, to help him live this hour with meaning. Believing in God means that our “why?” can be transformed into “what for?”

“In the programme of the kingdom of God”, St John Paul II said, “suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour” (Salvifici Doloris 30). 

The suffering caused by the virus is also present in order to revive love in ourselves. It is towards this love that providence leads all things. So, whoever believes in providence does not respond with negligence or irresponsibility, but with the intelligence of love.

Jordaens’ 'The Good Samaritan'

We discover how precious are our relationships, which are lived out in the body. This is why this virus is a threat to our communal life. This is why we are afraid to be together, to work together, and why we isolate ourselves. Thus, the virus wounds us at the heart of our humanity, which consists of the call to communion. 

At the same time, we understand the greatness of the good that is threatened. For we experience that we have no life if it is not life together; that we cannot flourish as solitary individuals, but only as members of a family, school, neighbourhood. The virus unmasks the lie of individualism and testifies to the beauty of the common good.

The reawakening to love continues, secondly, because we suffer as our own the suffering and anguish of others. Pain unites us. In a certain sense, we have all been infected by the virus because our community, our city, our nation has been infected. Hard times are on the way for many families, for the elderly, for the most vulnerable, but these sufferings will have the effect of increasing amongst us the works of love carried out for others. The difficulties of having physical contact will require an intelligent love, which will invent new ways of being present. Technology will help us to express that closeness and that affective support which, far from spreading the virus, vaccinates us against it. 

Reawakening to love will also, and thirdly, consist of the discovery of new ways of working together. For the pain of the virus, in addition to that caused by the physical disease, will be the pain of anxiety, of not knowing what to expect or how to get on with the thousand things of everyday life, and the fatigue of remaking plans and of enduring the waiting. An intelligent and creative love will be that of teachers who do not interrupt their educational work and their support for their students; that of parents who create tasks  and games for their children; that of pastors who continue to bring food to their faithful; that of families who inspire and share their creativity with other families.

Finally, this creativity of love will help us discover that love has an inexhaustible source. And so, fourthly, our suffering will reawaken us to love if we turn our gaze to God, who is the source and channel of all love.

The forced isolation caused by the virus is an opportunity for us to delve more deeply into the big question, the “why?”, that lies behind everything. 

The virus, in threatening the life-giving air that we breathe and the presence of those we love, invites us to ask ourselves about the ultimate secret of this very life and love. What is its origin and destiny? This question will lead us to discover the face of

“Let us remember, therefore, that the grace of God continues to act, even when we cannot receive Communion. For at every Mass that a priest says, even if he is alone, we will all be present and God’s grace will touch us. “

the God who wanted to respond to suffering, not with a theory, but with a presence: His suffering with us. For He became flesh, taking on our suffering in order to heal it; and, in the Sacraments of His Body and Blood, He gave us the gift of health.

It is precisely at this time that access to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, has become difficult. Let us remember, therefore, that the grace of God continues to act, even when we cannot receive Communion. For at every Mass that a priest says, even if he is alone, we will all be present and God’s grace will touch us. Faith in providence will arouse an intelligent love so that the Eucharist continues to be present in our lives. 

We will be able to strengthen our communal prayer, our reading aloud of the Word of God, our family recitation of Sunday Lauds or Vespers, our invocation of Mary in the Rosary…

It has already become clear that many will have to live this Lent fasting from the Eucharist. If, however, this awakens in us a love for the living Bread that comes from Heaven, if it teaches us that we cannot live when deprived of the Eucharist – the medicine of immortality – then this fast will have a saving effect. For in the Eucharist is the resurrected Body of Christ: immune to any virus, and inexhaustible source of our common life. Thus, the threat of the virus will awaken in us not only a concrete love for those who suffer, but a hope for the Love that never ends. The psalmist’s plea will sound anew: “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, because you have the Lord for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold” (Ps 91:5-6:9).

Nothing escapes the providence of God, and God relies on our prudence (which is the intelligence of love) to face the epidemic, supporting each other in a generous and creative fashion.

Fr José Granados is the Superior General of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

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A life of service comes from the Gospel and the heart of Christ

Friday 7th December 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

A life of service comes from the Gospel and the heart of Christ

Lord Alton of Liverpool

The principle of serving others is a central tenet of citizenship. For Christians it is at the very heart of the Gospel; and for all of us, service of others, changes lives, changes society, and changes us; all for the better.

Before I became a member of parliament I was a school teacher in Liverpool, where I soon learnt that inspiring young people to read, study and learn was far more effective than either simple reward or punishment. I witnessed how young men and women, inspired by all sorts of people, have made great contributions to their families, neighbours, society and world.

As a young boy, along with millions of others, I walked past Winston Churchill’s coffin in Westminster Hall. He has been lionised as the man who saved democracy, and he certainly inspired me. Nearly 2,500 years before this Aristotle warned that “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must either be a beast or a god.” And a little late Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”

Nelson Mandela often reflected on the idea of ‘Ubuntu’ – a person is a person because of other people, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained that “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good…”

For many who come to the Christian faith as adults, the first exposure is seeing an individual or group of Christians in service – teachers, medics, aid workers, judges, politicians. We are first inspired by people, and only then by their ideas. The Gospels tell us that the first Christians were inspired by Christ, and only then by what He taught them. For us to encourage the next generation to serve, we must do so by setting that example of service, and by doing so we become instruments by which others are inspired.

If we want to change the world, we need to change our nation; if we want to change our nation we must change our communities; if we want to change our communities, we must change our families; and if we want to change our families we must change ourselves. Change does not come about by itself – it comes through active participation and voluntary service.

Young Christ Preaching in the Temple, from the ‘Heures de Nostre Dame’, c.1430. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College. Right, anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce combined a strong Christian faith with political service for the good of humanity. John Ricing, c1790, Private Collection

Churchill insisted that,“The flame of Christian ethics is still our highest guide. To guard and cherish it is our first interest, both spiritually and materially… Only by bringing it into perfect application can we hope to solve for ourselves the problems of this world and not of this world alone.”

William Wilberforce

In 1993 St John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor, wrote that, “If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” While, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate, wrote that, ‘Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people’s integral development. Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence.’

Inspiring and channelling religious adherents into public service is transformative of individuals and of society. If the imperfect system of democracy is to function and survive, there must be a continuous cultivation of virtue and an upholding of those values that enrich and underpin a system that can so easily be subverted. Inspired political service can put right more than minor injustices, Wilberforce, who with Clarkson, the Quaker ladies and others campaigned for 40 years against the slave trade. Political service, legal service, medical, spiritual and many others, all better society and those who serve.

As a teenager I was inspired by Robert Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King – both murdered for their beliefs. Kennedy insisted that every person could make some sort of difference: “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events”, while King insisted that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I was recently in Pakistan, raising the case of Asia Bibi – who has thankfully been released, though not yet been able to find sanctuary outside Pakistan. In 2011, after championing her case the Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered. He knew his potential fate: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know the meaning of the Cross. I am following the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause.”

When people take up a mantle and fight for something good, they often have a twofold effect. First, of moving their cause forward, but also inspiring those around them. They inspire others to realise that they can improve the lives of others and made a difference in our world. In a moving letter, the last he wrote, John Wesley told William Wilberforce to use all his political skills to end slavery and to fight for human dignity, to be like the fourth century Christian bishop Athanasius, an ‘Athanasius contra mundum’ or an  ‘Athanasius against the world’.

We see a long line of inspiration of one Christian to another, parents to children, teachers to pupils. At the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst’s Theodore House, we are proud to encourage this long line of inspiration, that begins and always points to Christ. We remember the many Saints and Blesseds (many old boys of Stonyhurst College) who have been faithful against the odds and have both enriched the world they lived in, and also inspired the next generation.

We continue in this long tradition by inviting young people from around the world to Lancashire to learn about the Christian story, and the many heroes of it – how they served in their time, and allow  the freedom of young minds to discover how they may serve in their word and in their time.

‘I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know the meaning of the Cross. I am following the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause.’
Shahbaz Bhatti (below)