This is a time for reflection, creativity and conversion, to summarize Pope Francis’ comments to journalist Austen Ivereigh in an interview published April 8. The aftermath of COVID-19’s trip around the world “has already begun to be revealed as tragic and painful, which is why we must be thinking about it now,” he observed.
He spoke of the need to be inventive and creative, to avoid taking refuge in escapism and to take care of ourselves for a better future. Those of us who make it through this pandemic unscathed by illness and untouched by death can consider ourselves very fortunate, but the long-term changes to our lives will not end there. There may be economic fallout – the length and depth remains to be seen – that could affect us all for years to come, and I will be surprised if this worldwide crisis doesn’t lead to some significant cultural shifts.
But, being an optimistic type, I’d like to propose that some changes could be good, even welcome. Here’s a short list:
More respect and reverence for life. In this country – and around the world – life is treated in a cavalier way, something to be given or taken at will, via euthanasia, abortion or violence, for starters. Life is a gift, and every experience – however difficult – is an opportunity for growth. Perhaps the awareness of mortality, the lack of ability to control nature, a return to religion, or some other facet of this pandemic will compel a change of hearts.
An interest in simplified lifestyles. Busy-ness has become a way of life and even a mark of success. Our relationships (and possibly sanity) suffer when we are racing madly around from place to place, activity to activity. Perhaps this period of quarantine, where we are spending time at home with our families and reconnecting (by phone, often) with family and friends, will remind us of the value of our home lives and loved ones.
Babies. At 1.32 births per woman, Italy had the lowest birth rate in Europe, far below the 2.1 needed for replacement. Demographers had been fretting about the country’s falling population for decades; the trend is largely attributed to the country’s stagnant economy, but there’s also a trend away from family-building across the Western world. Facebook memes joke about the next baby boom – “coronnials” – due to too much downtime at home. We can only hope.
Renewed interest in religion. Many non-practicing Catholics will return to churches immediately after they reopen. Hopefully we will welcome them, draw them into our parish families and remind them of God’s love and their intrinsic human value. Religion adds beauty, magic (miracles), depth and richness to our lives. Also goodness, hope, love and charity. Let’s share it.
Appreciation for nature. Taking long walks has become a way to get out of the house, manage stress, get exercise and commune (from afar) with neighbors. Anecdotally, it appears many urban types who work in offices and work out in gyms are going outdoors instead. Florence Williams, in “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative,” outlines the scientific evidence explaining why nature is so soothing – if you’re interested, there’s plenty – but we don’t need to study the science to enjoy God’s creation, especially in springtime.
Celebrations. When all of this ends, I hope every parish in the diocese plans some sort of celebration to mark the occasion, even if it’s just an informal potluck picnic. Parishes are struggling financially, but advertising online Mass times in the local newspaper could be a means of reaching out to non-practicing Catholics and giving them a no-obligation, non-intimidating way to reconnect with God and their local Catholic community. Who knows – they might even turn up for the party.
I want to wish all of you a blessed Easter season and a beautiful springtime. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, jobs or businesses during this crisis, and especially to farmers and farm workers, who are dedicated to the soil and to feeding all of us. It is a life of toil and, in times like these, deep economic struggle. You have my prayers.