When it became a clear that COVID-19 was spreading across the United States back in March, I didn’t initially know how to respond. My husband is immunocompromised with a rare autoimmune lung disease. He is the epitome of high-risk. As I read about the double viral pneumonia, respirators, and the deaths of thousands of people, I understandably became concerned for his safety.
By God’s grace, however, my concern was largely reasoned and not tinged with the fear that we dealt with when he was first diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis (GPA) three years ago. It was a cautious concern that led us to make preparations for quarantine in the beginning stages of the virus in the event it became widespread in our area.
After over two years of waiting, my husband’s medications finally began working a few months ago. This means he has not been in an active flare up in his lungs throughout this entire pandemic thus far. The timing was clearly from God since everything finally went quiet in January when his Rheumatologist changed the dosage on one of of his immune suppression drugs. We finally found the right combination for the time being.
As churches closed or remained open under tight restrictions in my own diocese, my husband went to two of the priests in the area to try to help them in responding to this crisis at their parishes. He explained to them that he believed God has given him a reprieve in his illness. It is a gift and he is going to serve in whatever prudent capacity he can throughout this pandemic.
He takes reasonable precautions, but this entire time he has repeatedly told me and those around him that he is not going to stop living his life. How does a man fearlessly continue to live his life during a pandemic that could kill him? Through a complete and total surrender to God’s will and a call for me to do the same.
Looking for supernatural faith
One of the frustrations many Catholics have had throughout this exile is a perceived lack of supernatural faith on the part of our leaders in the hierarchy. There has been an inordinate amount of attention on physical safety and only a subdued call to the spiritual life. There are many Catholics who have felt abandoned by the hierarchy in their dioceses. Many have rightly been confused as to why the body is being placed so much higher than the spiritual, when Christ Himself commands us not to fear what can kill the body, but what can kill the soul.
My husband has sought to live supernatural faith throughout this pandemic even though he knows if he contracts the virus it could kill him. He’s chosen to trust in Christ completely. His surrender to Christ in all of this has served as a witness to me, which has dispelled my own fear and doubt.
It is this type of fearless witness we are called to as Christian disciples. We are called to be prudent, but not become paralyzed by fear and hide behind locked doors. We are meant to be a light in a dark, panic-stricken world. To find innovative ways to bring the Sacraments and the Good News to the world regardless of circumstances. Our joy, peace, hope, and trust in Christ should lead the world to the love of the Most Holy Trinity, even in the face of death.
I spent a lot of time worrying about my husband’s health and his possible death when he was first diagnosed. It was utter misery. I see that same misery on the faces of my neighbors in this pandemic. Fear and panic are how the Enemy is trying to rob us of faith, hope, and charity.
The only answer to fear is a complete surrender to God’s will in love. It is love that dispels fear and darkness. This love leads to an acceptance of all that God asks of us even if it costs us everything in this life. This is because our hope is not in this world. This is not our home, so we can rest in the peace of Christ knowing that everything—even death—will bring about God’s greater glory and lead us to our eternal home.
Faith—like hope and charity—is a gift given to us by God, but we must open ourselves up to it and surrender our will to Him in order to live fully in supernatural faith trusting in His ways. We have to relinquish our desire for control, which is ultimately what drives fear, and raise our eyes to our Father trusting He knows what is best for our ultimate good, which is our sanctification. Faith is knowing God loves us, even in midst of great affliction.
The centrality of the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist
Our primary means of sanctification is through the Sacraments. My husband has shown me how true this is, especially in his love for the the Holy Eucharist. I already know the Sacraments are the most important things in our lives, but my husband’s example goes beyond anything I could offer as a theologian. He has truly shown me that the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, are more important than the air we breathe.
My diocese began limited public celebrations of the Mass on Ascension Sunday. In the week leading up to the first public Masses, the protocols for attendance at those Masses were released. A lot of people were frustrated with the strict stipulations put in place in order to attend Mass. I myself had a brief bout of frustration with the protocols, which was fueled by momentary concern for my husband’s safety.
My husband made a very good point to me when I voiced some of my concerns. He said to me: “It doesn’t matter if our bishop asks us to hop in on one foot. We will do whatever we have to do in order to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion.” I had allowed my gaze to wander from the Real Presence of Our Lord. In so doing, I was briefly overtaken by fear and became frustrated by what are minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things. When Sunday morning arrived, none of it mattered.
This reminder from my husband to me, that we will do whatever it takes to return to Mass, comes with considerable weight given that he is willingly accepting the risk by going back to Mass. He is showing me through his own example that the Holy Eucharist is worth everything in this life. He is willing to go to Mass despite the risks in order to receive Our Lord’s Real Presence in Holy Communion. He is a witness to the Real Presence in an age when the majority of Catholics deny this truth and have never experienced intimate union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist. No one puts their life on the line for a wafer.
I have been disheartened by the lack of supernatural faith in some corners throughout this pandemic and I have a lot of friends and family who feel the same way. I don’t mean my own priests who have sought to bring the Sacraments of Healing to the flock as much as possible and to reach out through live-stream daily Masses, Benediction, social media, and kept our parish open for private prayer 7-days-a-week.
There’s a line from the movie Braveheart that has often come to mind in the last couple of months: “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” We are most able to live the cardinal virtue of fortitude when it is united to a deep, unreserved love for Christ that trusts and hopes despite the storms of this life. Fortitude and charity are linked to one another.
My husband is showing me the kind of courage that is united to a deep love of Our Lord. That kind of courage evangelizes. That kind of courage makes saints. Through his courage and God’s grace, I too am able to fix my gaze on Christ in this storm no matter what comes. There is nothing more important on this side of eternity than the Holy Eucharist.