My plane landed on Friday, March 13 at noon, only a week after my husband and I had left our home. But the place we arrived felt vastly different. The wave of tragedy and terror Italy was experiencing had crashed against our US shore. Awoken with a splash of icy water, life in this nation had changed.
The coronavirus tsunami kept rising. The cancelation of gatherings of 250 people reduced to 50, and then to 10. Three feet distance between people expanded to six. Hand washing shifted to no touching at all. School closings were just the beginning. Theaters, museums, sports arenas, gyms, yoga studios, libraries, anywhere people can gather also closed. Restaurants and bars only offering meals through delivery. People who could work from home, started; others were simply out of a job.
The tidal wave flooded my faith life as well. The Chicago Archdiocese stopped all in-person celebrations of the Eucharist; televised masses and ocular communion was all that remained. RCIA and religious education halted midstream. Lenten programs left silent until next year.
The isolation caused by the necessity of social distancing is real. The uncertainty of who will become ill, who will recover and who will not, has created a palpable anxiety that hangs in the air. The fear and sadness of the world has soaked into my skin and has touched my heart.
Knowing this swimming in deep waters will not be over soon and will demand me to live differently, is my starting point for this reflection. I place the pain caused by a microscopic virus next to the life and mission of Christ. It seems God takes the suffering of the world and holds it gently in loving arms. God says, “I understand. You are not alone.”
I did a little research on St. Corona. She heard of a Rome soldier, Victor, who was being tortured because of his faith in Christ. A Christian herself, the young woman stood near him in his agony - so he would not be alone. A consequence of her companionship was her own martyrdom, which she willingly accepted.
As people of faith, it seems the world needs us more than ever. To accompany those who feel the consequences of COVID 19, in their spirit as well as in their body. The ability to physically connect with other people is limited, and with good reason, but it cannot be not the end of the story. How can I be present to offer presence? Phone, computer, prayer? I pray for God to enlighten my imagination to see the multiple ways I can stand in solidarity with those experiencing suffering.
I have no doubt that we will all focus on the work that is ours to do. But in this moment, it is important to acknowledge what has changed, what has been lost, and where we find our hope.
St. Corona, pray for us! And may the Risen Christ be present in our hearts and the world.