Q: Archbishop J, is COVID-19 a tool of the devil?
Well! This virus is frightening. It is spread by human-to-human contact, forcing us into isolation. It is spread in the air, which forces us to practise “social distancing”. It practises age discrimination: the elderly are dying at a rate phenomenally higher than the young. It targets the most vulnerable.
In times of danger our natural inclination is to huddle. This virus causes us to act completely against our natural instincts. When there is great trauma we hug, we reach out with a handshake or a comforting hand on the shoulder. This virus forces us to maintain personal space and distance from those to whom we feel most connected. We would normally go to visit our parents and grandparents when they need our comforting. Now, we dare not for fear of infecting them unwittingly.
Those with serious underlying medical conditions and the aged are at risk. Those who do the natural thing and huddle are at risk. If you touch your face as we tend to do all day you are at risk. This virus gets us everywhere we express our humanity.
We are naturally social beings. Our Christian tradition teaches us to care for the most vulnerable. The highest law is love of God and neighbour. This virus moves us to isolation and to see everyone as a possible enemy who could bring death. It fosters paranoia, just as it is effective at disarming the unsuspecting.
St Ignatius of Loyola called the devil the enemy of human nature. The devil takes what is good and turns it into something bad; perverts what is most characteristic of us humans and uses it against us. COVID-19 at first glance seems to qualify.
A second view
When I look again, past the horror and the terror of the pandemic, I see other signs on which we must reflect—another view that is fragile but compelling.
The Planet’s View: On January 24, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, spoke about the greatest threat facing humanity—”the ability to live on this planet”.
He said, many believe the planet is resilient and we are innovative with our science, so we need not worry. He retorted: “The planet will be okay; it is we who will be destroyed if we do not change our carbon footprint and all we are doing to cause destruction to our planet.”
Youth Activist View: Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, has some marvellous words about our relationship with the planet. She has taken on world leaders, saying, “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering.”
On another occasion she said: “We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.” And, “We aren’t destroying the biosphere because we are selfish. We are doing it simply because we are unaware.”
The Environmentalist View: From early March, the unthinkable has happened. We have cancelled flights, cut back on the use of cars. We have voluntarily cut back on carbon emissions. We have self-regulated our lifestyle and dramatically reduced injury to the environment. We are achieving what the global leaders, with all their power failed to achieve from the Paris climate agreement 2015.
A Microbe’s View: This little microbe called coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has achieved what the most powerful leaders in the world were unable or unwilling to do. In China, the blue sky is visible in the big cities as the thick smog is lifted. People can hear birds sing again. They see the beauty of God’s creation. This little microbe has achieved for the planet what we humans were unwilling to do.
Our T and T View: Have you ever heard of anyone or anything shutting down the bars and night life in Trinidad? But this little microbe has done it and caused families to be at home. No Prime Minister, no Archbishop, Pundit or Imam would have such power. Imagine parents and children spending so many hours at home together? Unprecedented! We have had to slow down, face each other, and live in small spaces together. We have had to support each other and pray together and learn again how to be around each other without the manic madness of our fast-paced lives.
Neighbours are caring for each other and calling up or calling out and checking up on each other. People are buying food for the elderly to allow them to stay at home. Tenderness and caring have emerged. We have time for each other and are happy to help.
This Lent, most have willingly given up unnecessary excessive activities and slowed down in unplanned but great ways. This little microbe has forced us to weigh licence and freedom. Networks are being built. People are working together to find solutions and we are finding a new way of living.
Lessons we are learning
This little microbe is teaching people that every life is important and pointing us to the dignity of each human being. It is teaching us how much we can do without. It is teaching us discipline and respect for others. It is teaching us the value of family, the value of the Eucharist—the importance of God. It is asking us how much we really care. It is teaching us to live simply so others could simply live.
So, is COVID-19 a tool of the devil? Or an invitation from God?
Key Message: Discerning good and evil is not always easy. We must always enquire deeply and not settle on the first read.
Action Step: Make a list of all the ways your life has changed since Friday, March 13. Evaluate the changes and ask the deeper question: How is this inviting me to be a better version of myself?
Scripture Reading: John 9:1–5