When illness or plague struck Christian or Jewish people in the past, their two-pronged reaction was 1) to cure or flee from it, and 2) to repent of their sins and pray for forgiveness. In 2020, we know how to do the former, but is the latter archaic?
For an answer, we can look to Sirach 38:1-15, which speaks of physicians and developers of medicine. Sirach states that “healing comes from the Most High,” but “He gave skill to men that He might be glorified in His marvelous works, by them [doctors] He heals and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes a compound, his works will never be finished…” It instructs the sick to pray for healing and cleanse their hearts from all sin. But immediately after, “give the physician his place, for the Lord created him…[a sick person] who sins before the Maker, may he fall into the care of a physician.” In other words, if you are ill, pray and repent, but see a doctor too.
Scripture and Tradition do not say that all illness is caused by sin, but they do say it can be, or at least God can use illness to call us to reevaluate our lives and return to a healthy relationship with him. Therefore, the Christian response to illness is both scientific and spiritual. Extending these principles to times of international illness like today, we need to use natural means to protect ourselves and/or find healing (social distancing, washing hands, etc.), but we also must pray and repent. Furthermore, major illnesses call for national responses of repentance and prayer. Excluding either scientific cures/natural protections or prayer/repentance fails to acknowledge how God works on both the natural and supernatural levels.
Some have asked: Is the spread of Coronavirus during Lent merely happenstance, or is it a providential admonishment to return to a Godly life? We don’t know that answer. Nonetheless, this pandemic is occurring during Lent. We Christians recognize that the Lord calls us specially in this season—beyond following the rules put in place by our governments for our bodily health—to renew our spiritual health as well, as commanded in Sirach. We can’t waste our lives on Netflix for the next few weeks or months; we are called to evaluate our lives and ask whether we are living for something more transcendent or simply the here-and-now. We must pray daily and recommit ourselves to a real living relationship with God.
The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, help us perform penance for personal and national sins, but they also help us build good habits that should continue beyond this liturgical season. Our Lenten observances can be targeted at both the spiritual and material aspects of the outbreak. We can pray and fast with intentions for a speedy cure, low loss of life, and conversion of heart. And we can give alms to the poor, vulnerable, and those whose livelihoods are affected by the closing of shops and restaurants.
Br. Chrysostom Mijinke, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE