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5 Ways to cope spiritually with a pandemic

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Mangostar | Shutterstock
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Man cannot live by bread alone, no matter how much of it he has stockpiled in a chest freezer.

It’s all over the news now: major events canceled, schools closing, grocery stores emptied of canned goods, hand sanitizer sold out. Especially if you live in an infected area, the preparation for Covid-19 is real and intense.

But physical preparation is not all that matters. “Man cannot live by bread alone,” no matter how much of it he has stockpiled in a chest freezer. Let’s prepare ourselves to get through this time spiritually, too.

1
Take every physical precaution available to you, out of love for your neighbor.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Yes, you should prepare yourself for the coming of Covid-19, if you haven’t already. You’re not cowardly or unfaithful if you take serious measures to get ready, including quarantining yourself at home, stockpiling supplies, and not attending religious services.

Every event could spread the disease. Canceling events and staying home can and will save lives. It’s a pro-life issue and a real act of charity to do all we can to keep ourselves and those around us safe.

We know what is happening in other countries: the hospitals totally overwhelmed, the brutal stress on healthcare workers, the unthinkable choices they are having to make. Staying home now, and preparing yourself to quarantine for some time, are the kindest things you can do for others right now.

The Catechism attributes these words to St. Ignatius, and they should be written on our hearts during this time of uncertainty and preparation: “Pray as though everything depended on God; act as though everything depended on you.”

2
Prepare your soul for whatever will come.

When it comes to facing a fear, sometimes the best approach is to examine your worst case scenario in detail, so as to demystify and come to terms with it. If you feel rising fear and panic at the thought of Covid-19 hitting your area, ask yourself: What am I really afraid of?

Statistically speaking, few of those reading this will have serious consequences from the disease. But it’s prudent to be prepared for the possibility even of death. Make time to go to confession if it is still available in your area, remain in a state of grace, pray, and make your peace with God and others.

Perhaps this sounds extreme, but consider this: The Church and the saints encourage us to always recall our eventual deaths, as a way to savor life and live it well. This practice is called memento mori, and it has been having a recent cultural resurgence in Catholic circles, spearheaded by Daughter of St. Paul Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, who tweets about her reflections on death.

The coming pandemic is a sort of society-wide memento mori. It seems oddly fitting that we are facing this disease during Lent, when we are called to “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Most of us fear death, and Covid-19 is bringing all those deeply buried terrors to the surface. It’s natural and understandable to be afraid, especially if we have small children or elderly parents or anyone who depends on us and whose life is more precious to us than our own.

A fundamental truth of our faith, however, is that Christ brings eternal life. Christ rose from the dead, and He has extended the same promise to each one of us. On this truth, our entire faith depends. Holding this truth in mind, we can acknowledge and examine our fear of death.

When we feel fear rising, we need to ask ourselves: Do we trust God? As Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble says, “Death forces you to come up against all those things you say you believe, but do you really believe them?”

God is our Father, and He is Father to our children and loved ones even more than we are. Even a pandemic is not stronger than God and His love for us.

Learning to acknowledge fear of death and find peace with it is the hardest thing most of us will ever do. But at the heart of it, this acceptance is key to maintaining deep interior peace during this time of crisis. It’s an ongoing process for each of us, but together, we can ask and seek to trust in God’s all-powerful providence.

3
Be a witness to those around you.

We have an extraordinary opportunity here to show the world how a Christian acts in a crisis. Our calmness and generosity of heart will be a powerful witness. Let’s share our peace with others instead of joining in panic and hysteria.

This witness includes those we live with during quarantine: The struggle to maintain family peace in tight quarters is real, but we can do our utmost to hold on to peace throughout the day and apologize when we inevitably mess up. Parents are called to be the “first evangelists” to their children, and this time together is an important way to put that into practice.

An important part of our witness includes being thoughtful with our comments about the crisis. If we try to minimize the disease by saying something like “oh, well, only the elderly and immunocompromised are at risk,” we are saying that those lives have less value. Again, this is a pro-life concern: Every life is precious, and acting like the lives of those most at risk are expendable is deeply antithetical to the Christian message.

Similarly, no matter how we feel about it, refrain from mocking those whose preparation looks different from your own. Whether someone is very scared about the pandemic, or is totally unprepared, it won’t help one bit to make fun of them. Of course, share whatever information has been helpful to you, but always with charity.

4
Find reasons to be grateful.

It sounds counter-intuitive: What is there to be grateful for in a pandemic? But we are called “always and everywhere to give Him thanks,” although it sure seems hard to do in times of crisis.

Something that has greatly helped me is reading this report from a woman on quarantine lockdown in China. She shares the good parts of quarantine: the unhurried time for cooking, cleaning, walks with friends, home projects, connecting with neighbors. “Our family life has never been better,” she says.

Quarantine does not have to be something scary. In fact, based on her report months into lockdown, it could end up being a happy and peaceful time, full of family fun and neighborly bonding. That kind of experience is something most of us would be grateful for.

5
Pray.

Time with God is the foundation to everything else: the source of the peace and calm we want to share, the One who inspires our trust and gratitude. After all, peace always comes from God. Unrest and fear do not. So make time to pray. Seek after God so you can know and share in His peace.

To know of His promise for spiritual protection, read Psalm 91:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

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