Finding peace and trust in a pandemic
April 2, 2020
My friend Dan Burke, co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary,” has come down with COVID-19. Shortly before going to the ICU, he said that although it was affecting his already compromised lungs, he was at peace. Such peace astonishes most people, but it shouldn’t astonish Christians. It is part of our heritage.
The psalmist wrote, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” (Ps 91:1-3).
I once took such passages literally. “If I follow God,” I thought, “no harm will come to me or my loved ones.” But how can this interpretation be correct, when godly people do become seriously ill? Are the sick at fault? Do they lack faith? Or does the Scripture lie? Neither of these options satisfies. To interpret the Old Testament correctly, we must look to the New.
St. Paul writes, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose…. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:28, 38-39).
Christ did not give peace as the world does (Jn 14:27). The world requires health, wealth and harmony as a foundation for peace. In contrast, Christ gives “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). With God’s grace, we can be at peace in the midst of war, poverty and even pandemics. We can be at peace whether we or our loved ones fall ill. How? By recalling that illness cannot separate us from God’s love.
God is present with those who are isolated at home or in biocontainment units. He is with those whose jobs are at risk. He is with those who are working among the sick.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote these lines on a bookmark: “Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God. God alone suffices.”
Everything but God will pass away. God is giving us an opportunity to learn and embrace this truth. Only he is worthy of trust, because he alone never changes. His love alone is the source of peace, because no one can take it away, though we can turn our backs on that love.
Now is the time to recall what life is about. Life is about love. Loving God first, and then our neighbor. And it begins with God’s love for us. A love that went to the cross. A love that sometimes heals the sick, but always forgives the repentant sinner. A love that lasts forever. A love calling us to intimate union. This love is our refuge and fortress, guarding us from the evil of separation from him. In his love we find deliverance from all harm.
Our minds cannot understand having peace in a pandemic. But our hearts lead us to believe and receive the grace to trust.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.