On March 12th I was supposed to be on a plane to Italy, leading a group of travelers through Rome and Tuscany. It’s part of a small travel company I operate that specializes in tours of Italy, and this trip was centered on the art, spirituality, and life of Michelangelo. So for the better part of the year I’ve been reading books and teaching on Michelangelo, studying his art, preparing for every possible question and contingency.
But no one could plan for this, and in the past two weeks I’ve watched my trip, and all my meticulous planning, turn to dust: all of a year’s hard work and planning, gone.
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
On Ash Wednesday we were signed with ashes and invited to reflect on our own mortality, on the contingency of all things, and on the state of our souls in light of all of this. As we enter more deeply into Lent, we increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving in spiritual preparation for Easter, and these spiritual practices can provide practical support in the face the unique and unprecedented public health challenge of COVID-19.
During Lent, we pray more, so that space and silence are created to help us enter more deeply into relationship with God. We also fast from good things that might distract us, or that may have become more important to us than our physical and spiritual health. And finally, we give more of our time, our talent, and our treasure to others, to live out the fruits of our love and devotion to God. This threefold path of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving enables us to renew ourselves, our communities, and our commitments to love.
Lent in the time of Coronavirus can find us strengthened by our Lenten disciplines. We can pray to ground ourselves more deeply in God’s care for us, and in the Spirit’s gift of wisdom. We can fast from panic, misinformation, and from hoarding items that vulnerable populations need for survival. And we can give alms in the form of acting responsibly, both for ourselves and for others, showing our love for our neighbors by taking prudent and appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of disease.
In order to control the spread of disease and prevent our shared resources from being overwhelmed and exhausted, we will need to make sacrifices now. We will need to accept being inconvenienced, irritated, and even isolated. The disciplines of Lent can help us enter into this time with a spirit of self-sacrifice and rootedness in God’s love and care, with a special concern for others.
And we can draw on the wisdom of our history. Christianity has survived plagues, sieges, natural disasters, and all sorts of barbarism. During tumultuous times, we are invited to be witnesses of Christian love and charity. We can draw on Catholic Social Teaching, particularly the principles of Human Dignity, the Common Good, the Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, and Rights and Responsibilities.
God-willing, we can make the appropriate sacrifices, stop or slow the spread of the disease, and save lives, particularly of the vulnerable among us. Lent provides a fitting context for us to be open to change, to self-sacrifice, and to grow in wisdom and virtue in this time of anxiety.
My hope is that we can look back during the Easter Season and enjoy the good fruit of our good works, both spiritual and physical. And that whatever the future brings, we can be witnesses of prudence and love for those around us.