FOR OVER A month we have been battling with a virus, an enemy so small that we can’t even see it with the naked eye. We are reasonably cautious and sometimes unreasonably scared. We have been in shock, denial, anger, depression and in the latter part, acceptance and reaching out.
We have been shocked by the discovery of the infection within our own city and Hong Kong people are sometimes angry towards the government for not doing enough to contain the spread of the contagion. But the most natural and common response from the general public has been an act of depression; of withdrawing and securing one’s own safety.
But, our Christian vocation calls upon us to go beyond the natural responses and instead, to latch ourselves onto a Christian response. The Christian response is to think of the safety of our neighbour first before we think of ourselves and go further: to accept and reach out to those who are largely affected by the menace.
The Church boasts of a foundation that is laid on the blood of the martyrs! The Church is on a war front. Like all battles, the stronger the adversary, the better it brings out the true nature in us. It brings forth our courage, strength and sacrifices, and of course at times our cowardice too! Now in this moment of crisis, we have the opportunity and responsibility to be heroes rather than cowards, valiant rather than fugitives. And our courage and valour will be evaluated as the courageous sacrifice of the Church, provided we stand for others rather than for ourselves.
The nations around the world are in a battle to isolate and annihilate the enemy. One problem that could occur in this process is failing to identify who the enemy is. The enemy is a virus and not the people. There is a huge danger that the people affected by the epidemic are considered as enemies. We need to isolate the virus and annihilate it, while showing all compassion and kindness towards the people affected by it. The history of the Church reminds us that in moments of calamity such as plague or war, the Church always remained open to welcome the needy and offered them shelter, food and medicine. Closure of the Church for fear of virus would send the wrong message of fear to the people. This is the time when we should fight the fear and remain close to those in need.
For a Christian response we need to go beyond the natural tendency for self-preservation. We need to respond to the danger based on the values of the gospel, whose essence is love. Spreading falsehood and gossip are never the acts of love. Love is the most courageous thing to do in the world. When there is every reason to protect oneself and escape from a danger, choosing to protect the neighbor; sacrificing one’s own life is an act of courage. One cannot do that without loving.
The Catholic Church grew through the courageous love of saintly heroes like Maximilian Kolbe, someone from very recent history. In this crisis, love involves reaching out to the people who are suffering. If one insulates oneself from getting contaminated by distancing, at the end of the crisis one stands alone with no one to communicate with. The Church needs to take every effort to mobilise resources for the affected to help them fight this battle. jose