In an earlier posting entitled “Silence,” I lamented the constant barrage of stimuli in contemporary culture, which makes it difficult for us to be still, silent, and alone with our own thoughts. If ever there was a time to think and to pray, it is now, while most of us are confined to our homes to prevent the spread of a deadly virus. One of the most crucial things for us to think about is what we must do when this crisis is finally over.
Some editorialists are painting a very bleak picture of our future, asserting that our society will be “in ruins” in the aftermath of this pandemic. I’m not that pessimistic. I believe that, in difficult circumstances, we humans have a way of keeping things going as best we can; for example, some churches are offering drive-in style Mass and drive-thru confessions. I’ve been invited to phone conferences in which callers gather to pray the rosary. Schools and colleges have continued instruction in an online format. Many people are working from their homes. Even the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide and caused many changes, did not destroy our society. Life went on.
Still, though, we cannot go on ignoring the very serious societal problems that have been exacerbated by this virus’s rampage across the globe. Now is the time to acknowledge them fully, to confront them, and to resolve to fix them once we’re finally able to return to business-as-usual. Some of this “business” should never again be “usual.”
Masha Gressen, in her New Yorker article entitled “In the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, We Must Start Envisioning the Future Now,” writes that we will never be the same, but we need to spend this time of isolation deciding if we want to be better or worse when this pandemic is over. We can start by evaluating the changes that have already been thrust upon us, beginning with our government. Gressen says,
When we virtuously retreat to our homes, deserting public space and delegating all authority to one man armed with emergency powers, we are creating a society as close to the textbook definition of authoritarianism as has ever actually existed.
In other words, even during a crisis, we should not ignore our responsibilities to our democracy, which continues to require our constant attention and participation. As Irish statesman John Philpot Curran said in 1790, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” Shouldn’t we resolve to do better by doing our part?
Another serious problem is the plight of low-income families that were already living on the edge, with low-wage jobs, no savings, and no health care. In this crisis, they have been the first to suffer from lay-offs, loss of income, and medical bills they can’t pay. Their children, who lack computers and Internet access at home, will now fall even farther behind their higher-income peers whose parents can afford the technology they need to continue learning. Do we want to keep living in a world in which income inequality, corporate greed, and selfish politicians keep millions of people in poverty and create inequities in health care and education? I don’t. These problems existed before this crisis hit. Now, they turn out to be the most glaring of moral failures, ones that threaten the poor like never before. Shouldn’t we resolve to take better care of our brothers and sisters?
This crisis requires us to confront environmental destruction, too. According to some researchers, humans’ disruption of ecosystems triggers the release of deadly pathogens into our own population, so our own activities (and our disregard for the natural world) may have started this pandemic in the first place. When it’s over, shouldn’t we demand an end to environmental degradation of all kinds? Shouldn’t we resolve to take better care of our planet?
We Catholics know what kind of world God wants us to build here on Earth. His vision is presented to us in every Mass we attend and every passage of Scripture we read. This pandemic – which we may be responsible for creating – reveals where and how we’ve fallen short.
During our days of confinement, we must think, and we must plan. How can we do better?