A reflection on an article by The New York Times on the Coronavirus Pandemic and Religion:
On one hand, I admire Fr. Majdi Allawi’s response and actions toward the coronavirus crisis. Due to the fact that many people are restricted to gather at their usual place of worship, in this case a Maronite Catholic Church, the priest decided to take the Blessed Sacrament in the “sacred golden vessel”, aka monstrance over Lebanon to bless the people from “a cockpit-turned-pulpit”.
We need Jesus and when we can’t come to Him, it’s great to know that He is more than willing to come to us – jumping on a plane, if necessary. Christ became Man because he loves us; He makes Himself present in the Holy Eucharist because He loves us; He calls men to consecrate themselves in His name and gives them the grace to be another Him on earth because He loves us. In these times of great need, it’s comforting to know that Jesus continues to walk through (or fly over) the streets healing, blessing, and forgiving as He did in Biblical times. Perhaps these still are Biblical times for it is written, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. I hope, nonetheless, that we are far from the end of the age!
On the other hand, one might argue that God has also called men and women into the ministry of helping and healing the sick through medicine, i.e. as nurses, doctors, and other medical professions. Jesus is not only interested in healing the soul, but the body, as well; Jesus is interested in healing the complete human being.
If the medical experts have declared that it’s best to stay at home, wash our hands regularly, and maintain “social distancing” from other human beings and pets, it’s in all our best interest to do so. In this view, although it might be heroic for Fr. Majdi to ignore the restrictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so he can bless people with the Holy Eucharist today, he might not be around tomorrow to attend to his parishioners’ other needs if he were to catch the coronavirus. Moreover, he would be putting others at risk of contracting the COVID-19 disease.
Fr. Majdi is clearly a man of faith, he has offered his life to the Lord to become a priest and is therefore fulfilling his vocation of bringing Jesus to the people. That same calling, however, asks that he proceed with precaution and in the best interest of those he serves – and, yes, that means having to use hand sanitizer!
We find ourselves in a new and difficult situation. There are many things we do not know about the coronavirus or how many more lives it will claim. Scientists are in greater predicaments as they work overtime to generate a vaccine. Businesses, educational institutions, and governments are doing their best to respond to the status quo. We all want this pandemic to cease and are doing our part to keep the virus from spreading.
Church officials, including Bishops have likewise done what they can to keep the faithful and all peoples safe. They have made the difficult choice of closing churches and suspending public Masses. I don’t think priests want to keep their churches closed. I don’t think Bishops want to keep the faithful from Holy Mass and from the Sacraments, but it is what they have found to be the best decision in face of the current situation.
Priests like Father Damien of Molokai, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Father Majdi Allawi or Monica Medhat, the woman who receives communion still with the faith that the body and blood of Christ “can’t get infected with anything”, demonstrate a different call to action. In these times, there are many priests who have kept their parishes open and continue to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar to a limited number of faithful; there are men and women who have scrupulously investigated where Mass is celebrated and driven miles to receive the Sacred Host. They remind us, also, that Christianity was kept alive in the early Church by acts of extreme love, passion and heroism.
No one gives what they don’t have. Or rather, each one gives according to the gifts and faith God has given to us. Perhaps it’s not that a miracle is overdue, but rather that the Miracle has already been done. God has already given us healing and salvation; it is not us who should wait for Him, but rather it is He who waits for us.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought much uncertainty. Yet, one thing is certain: that God has permitted it. Though we may not understand it – and believe me, I definitely don’t understand why God has permitted the virus to kill thousands of people – yet, there is much to learn from it.
Before the virus forced me into quarantine, I was focused on many things that kept me from what’s most important – God. Even for someone like me, who is close to finishing his first year at the seminary, these past two weeks have been an opportunity to value and strengthen my relationship with God; I am aware of the enormous blessing – and responsibility – that I have in receiving Holy Communion every day; I am overwhelmed with knowing that I am protected at the seminary and that I have everything I need: food, shelter, friends, priests! Compared to other people’s current situation, mine is almost surreal, maybe even unfair or unjust, but it’s the one I am called to live, and I hope to do it with upmost gratitude. Why I am here and not there? I don’t know. All I know is that God has permitted it.
 Vivian Yee, “In a Pandemic, Religion Can Be a Balm and a Risk”, at The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/world/middleeast/coronavirus-religion.html