The last time our nation was mobilized in response to a shared threat was at the outbreak of World War II. On an exponentially larger scale than anything we’ve experienced since, the citizens of the United States were challenged to do their part to defeat a common foe.
Every aspect of life, from politics to personal savings, changed. Millions of women, students, and retirees entered the work force, while leisure activities declined. Tires became a rarity and non-essential driving was discouraged. Meatless Mondays and Beefless Tuesdays were promoted, and milk, meat, butter, and clothing were tightly rationed. New housing and household appliances stopped being produced. To prevent hoarding, ration books were distributed to every member of a household, including babies. Millions of families worried about their loved ones in the military, and thousands sent sons and daughters to serve who never returned. Every family experienced hardships. Every family had to make adjustments.
Though our challenges differ today, the attitude that helped our nation then is not so different from what will help us now. We need the grace to see us through.
The coronavirus is real and disturbing, like anything for which there isn’t an immediate cure. Older adults, the poor, and those with chronic health issues are at increased risk. Families, workers and businesses face new challenges every day. These challenges are real. But along with these comes a different kind of challenge, to see the closures, concerns and social distancing, not simply as aggravations making life harder, but to awaken, as Abraham Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature,” and demonstrate our concern for stranger and neighbor alike.
Lent has always been about “dying to self,” as Jesus said. In past Lents, we’ve “given things up” or attended a Lenten program to connect us more deeply with God. Usually it’s been our choice. This year it’s different. This year the choice has been determined by a microbe.
Until we can celebrate Mass together again, we have a chance to reawaken our hunger for the Eucharist and gratitude for the blessings of God’s grace. While we’re searching for toilet paper, we can also practice being good citizens, reawakening our collective memory of how being considerate of others makes us all better people. During this time we can choose not to fritter away our time on the trivial (How many times do we need to watch the same Big Bang Theory rerun? Is anyone unclear that Gilligan isn’t getting off the island?)
These weeks are our chance not to gripe about all the things we cannot do and focus instead on the things that make us better: our connections with family, our connection with God. And to remember why selflessness is a virtue, and being self-centered is not.
Father Steve Dohner