I’ve seen various forms of the argument: “People should be able to choose whether to go to Mass and put themselves at risk.” Perhaps. The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t apply to a virus. When people congregate, they exponentially increase the risk of spreading the virus with each other. One parishioner unaware he has a virus touches the wooden pew. Three days later, another parishioner touches the pew and picks it up (it can survive 4 days on wood). Then he goes home and shares it with his family. His wife goes to the gas station and touches the gas pump or leaves the apartment and touches an elevator button. Someone else picks it up. Suddenly the choice “whether to put themselves at risk” becomes the choice “whether to put their communities at risk.”
If regular reception of the Eucharist as a community is of upmost importance, parishes could choose to put only themselves at risk while attending Mass all together in this way: They could all live within the confines of the parish complex, never going outside, and receiving essential needs by delivery, not touching the exteriors of their building or anything that someone on the “outside world” would come into contact with. They all will have to agree that if anyone chooses to leave, they must leave the community and quarantine in isolation for two weeks before re-entering the outside world. They would also all have to agree to not seek external medical help should one or more of them fall ill. To seek medical help would involve the use of medical resources that could have gone elsewhere. It would be an acknowledgement that they did, indeed, choose this risk on behalf of their community.
But, of course, those of us in that “outside world” would want them to receive medical help. To be a Christian means choosing, again and again, to give. And so we do. And so we will.
Most of this will fall on medical professionals, who are all too used to mending the lives of others who have made irresponsible decisions. The medical profession, whatever its flaws, has figured out something that many Christians have failed to recognize in our own tradition: the inability to escape one another, the fundamental interconnectedness of communities, and the demand not only of charity but of justice that we come to one another’s aid. Segments of American Catholicism, in their desire to continue their “business as usual,” have been demonstrating the bloated individualism that the Church has been trying to resist for decades.
There’s a fundamental irony here, that these Catholic communities insisting upon the ability to take “individual” risks are often the very communities which would balk at the claim: “It doesn’t matter how I act with my sexuality, as long as I’m not hurting anyone; I know the relevant risks, and I can choose them for myself, without affecting others.” These Catholic communities are right in criticizing the claims of the “sexually liberated,” in recognizing that we don’t do anything as mere individuals in isolated worlds. What we do always affects others. They’re right on that point. They’re wrong in failing to adopt it for themselves. In failing to do so, they risk compromising the Church’s message on the meaning of the body.
Now is a time for a deepening awareness of our interconnectedness, a recognition of how even our smallest actions are tugs upon the web of Creation. We never really knew how badly we needed one another until now. We never knew so deeply how each thing we do with our bodies can be a matter of life and death for our neighbors. Personal responsibility takes on a new meaning, with a recognition of the need for social responsibility. We have an opportunity for the Church to present this message, a message that has always been Hers. Let’s not forget it.
More of my thoughts on Catholicism and COVID-19:
- The Quarantine and the Clergy Abuse Crisis
- With a Crisis Comes (Catholic) Superstition
- Thriving in the Midst of Pandemic: Week 1
- Coronavirus and Roommates: Thoughts for the (Over)Cautious
Other relevant articles and opinions:
- Resources on COVID-19 from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
- Resources on COVID-19 from the State of Minnesota
- Fr. Matthew Schneider: Why is public Mass suspended? 4 cases show why
- Under Thy Roof: Cancelling Mass for Outbreaks, A History
- Felix de St. Vincent: Coronavirus and Public Masses, An Integralist Perspective
- Tim O’Malley: The Church’s Response is Saying ‘No’ to Death’s Dominion
- Leonard DeLorenzo: The Sacrifices We Make: What it means to be a Christian under lockdown
- Nicholas Frankovich: Prolife, or not, in a pandemic
- Ed Condon and JD Flynn: The sacramental shutdown, coronavirus, and canon law
- Taylor Patrick O’Neill: Why Cancelling Public Masses is the Right Spiritual Decision for the Faithful
- John Zmirak: In time of plague, maybe don’t go to church or the movies or restaurants
- Fr. Andrew Younan: Coronavirus, communion in the hand, and calming down
- Ed Peters: Canonical deep breath time
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.