BY CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN
Last time, I shared with you some wisdom I had picked up over the last rough three-and-a-half months of quarantine and worry. That exercise prompted me to reflect even more, and additions came to mind. You ready?
We are not ultimately in charge. OK, true enough, our initiative and responsibility are essential, but there are certain things that are beyond our domain. We usually attribute an omniscience to scientists, scholars, and physicians. Through this crisis we admired their skills and hard work, but we often saw them simply shrug and admit, “I do not know.” Even our political leaders, who most of the time enjoy appearing to have all the answers, often concluded, “I’m baffled. I do not know where this is going to go.”
We are not God! That moving act of faith, “Jesus, I trust in Thee!” so frequently found itself on my lips over the course of the pandemic.
My dad used to say, “You can’t do anything about the weather; you can’t do much when you’re stuck in traffic—those are good reminders that we can’t control everything.” Add Covid-19 to weather and traffic.
Simple is better. I read an article about how moms, dads, and kids had grown snugger during the lockdowns. (Not to deny tension as well!) No complicated plans or detailed projects. We’re talking about reading a book to the kids, playing a childlike game, writing notes together to grandma and grandpa, baking cookies and leaving a tray outside the elderly neighbor’s door. One dad confessed he was on the floor hours each day coloring pictures with the kids!
The food was simpler, too, I’m told: grilled cheese for supper, pancakes for breakfast. All pitched in. No elaborate wardrobes were needed, either. We couldn’t even go to the barber or hair salon!
All the complicated stuff that usually clutters our lives was gone…and we rather enjoyed it.
Simplicity of life, a virtue the Bible extols, was the four-month blue plate special.
We work to live, not live to work. “As I look back,” she told me on the phone, “it’s clear that, before Covid, home, even my husband and kids, were ‘part time.’ My real duty and drive in life was the job: 10-12 hours a day, including some hours Saturday and Sunday, with home just a ‘flop house’ and the family an afterthought.”
“I’ve done a 180,” she went on. “My life is not my job, or my profession, as much as I love it. Work is a means to an end, not the end itself; the end is my home, family, friends, and faith!”
Alleluia! The Lord’s been trying to remind us of that since the Garden of Eden.
Distance is not as effective as being there! Bravo to our priests who kept in touch effectively through live-streaming, email, Facebook, Twitter, phone, just walking the neighborhood to wave at the folks. Most of you did that with friends and family, even with business meetings.
As good as it was, and as welcome as it was in the plague, everybody concluded, “But it’s just not the same.”
A seasoned priest remarked, “We learned in the seminary that you can’t have Mass without bread and wine. Now I’ve learned you can’t have Mass without the people!” He was quick to admit that, of course, Mass without a congregation was valid and a high good, but that even such a Mass was never private, because our faith tells us all of heaven and earth worship at every Eucharist.
So we’ve had “distance” events. Good…but not the same. When I would gather around the open grave with a small group of family and friends, we yearned to embrace and offer condolences, but couldn’t.
Mom tells me, “Shannon and Chris brought little Mollie Rose by (her three-month-old great-grandchild), and I was so thrilled to see her. But, I just wanted to hug her and hold her on my lap. I could only coo at her from 10 feet away.”
We’re meant to hold, touch, embrace, and be close… distancing is okay in a pinch, but ultimately just doesn’t do it.
A mom who was holding her little six-year-old girl, rocking her, as the child finally succumbed to cancer, told me, “The only solace I have is to believe that God is now holding her and rocking her forever.”
Finally, as toxic as the virus is, the malady of “feeling sorry for ourselves” is far more so. Some of us stayed not at home but moved into “pity city,” which is usually the most crowded urban area on the planet.
St. Teresa of Calcutta taught that, if you want joy, spell out the word: “J” comes first, and is for Jesus: put Him first; “o” follows, and indicates others, as the needs of those around us take precedence; finally, last of all, arrives “y,” for yourself. Put yourself last, and be surprised by joy.
I reckon that, in spite of their weariness, emotional wounds, and some shock, our health care professionals are people of joy these days, not only relieved that the worst seems over, but because they served others so sacrificially rather than feeling sorry for themselves.
“Cursed the day that doesn’t teach us something,” goes the old saw.
The last hundred certainly have taught us a lot.