Emergencies often reveal our unconscious assumptions and deeper motivations. Even at this early stage, I think Corona has revealed our pervasive inclination to isolation: how quick we are to pull back from others. We've become a nation of hermit crabs! C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, describes hell as isolation—people moving ever farther away from each other. Hell is a vast dark plain broken only by a few widely-separated houses, each inhabited by only one person.
I am a professional religious, so to speak, and I “sell” community. The Latin word religion means to re-connect, to re-ligare, meaning literally to “re-tie” two pieces together again. Religion begins with re-establishing our tie with God, and from there our tie with those around us. To do that we need open churches, as much as is possible. We need a House (of God) where all are welcome and all feel at home, in proximity with others (as much as is possible in a time of pestilence). It seems to me that some bishops were too quick to close our churches, isolating people even more than the government required. Locked churches isolates people not only from each other but even from the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It is quite possible to keep large churches open safely, by marking out distances, by sanitizing, by letting in only a certain number of people at a time. The supermarkets and coffee shops do it. Why can’t “religion,” whose essential business is to build community (with God first, and therefore with the entire human family)?
On Wednesday I went to Safeway to get some food for the 14 days I might have to spend alone in my room. The line snaked outside of the store, around the block. Most were staring into their iphones, but the brave lady six feet in front of me turned around to face me. She noticed my Roman collar and said with a smile: “Father, can’t you do something about all this?” I was praying my rosary, so I held it up and said “I’m pedaling as fast as I can!” She laughed. “Say a prayer for me too.” When it was her turn to enter the store she waved an amicable goodbye to me and said “good luck!” We felt an essential human connection had been reestablished. We felt the isolating power of the virus—our current defeatist impulse born of fear—had been mitigated, and we both smiled.