Amid This Strife, I Wonder What I Can Do
Friday, Jun. 26, 2020
This world you created is hurting. We have a worldwide pandemic and economic uncertainty. Added to that, here in the United States we have civil unrest because of my country’s systemic racism. All of this means that people are hurting, and are dying, and I don’t know what you expect me to do to show love to my neighbor.
The novel coronavirus continues to kill hundreds of people every day. As I write this, the worldwide death toll stands at 464,295; Americans make up about a quarter of that number. I know you call me to be your hands on earth, to paraphrase Saint Teresa of Avila, but other than clasping them together in prayer, I don’t know what you want me to do with them to help with the pandemic.
I do know that you don’t want me to do what I want to do, which is rant about the people who refuse to abide by the social distancing requirements put in place by public health experts.
“God doesn’t ask me to judge others, he commands me to love my neighbor,” I remind myself every time I see people flouting the social distancing requirements that protect not only the scofflaw but also my 83-year-old mother, my friends with compromised immunity, and me. Reputable scientific studies show that proper hand washing, maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks help prevent the spread of aerosols exhaled by people with the disease. All three of these behaviors are simple enough to do, so when I see people out in public not doing them, I want to scream.
I confess, God, that I have the uncharitable thought that it would serve the scofflaws right if they get the virus, so I’m not only praying for forgiveness but also that you help me to live by the Scriptural injunction to “judge not lest you be judged.”
I can’t think of anything other than prayer to do, God, either about the pandemic or the economic uncertainty. I do practice safe social distancing and wear a mask and wash my hands, and I have given money and food to the food bank and to food drives for those affected by the coronavirus, and to my parish and to the Carmelite nuns, both of which have seen their usual donations drop off. But even if I were to sell all my possessions and give to the poor, as Jesus told the rich young man who wanted to be perfect, the amount I would raise would be pennies compared to what’s needed.
Then there’s the racism that the United States has failed for centuries to resolve. Every single one of my friends who is a person of color can tell stories about being called names, insulted because of his or her race, or treated as inferior. Our faith teaches that we are “all one in Christ Jesus,” but we don’t seem to be treating each other as brothers and sisters, and I don’t know what you want me to do about that, either.
Many of the people of color who have written about this issue suggest that white people educate themselves about what it’s like to live as a member of a racial minority in today’s America. To do that, I’ll be taking part in an online discussion group. But this is just me, God, and I don’t know how doing this is going to do anything except teach me a little more than I already know.
One bright spot in all of this, for which I already have given you thanks, is the recent Supreme Court ruling on DACA. Almost 700,000 young people are protected from deportation under this program, and more than 90 percent of them are either employed or going to school. Among these young people are some of my neighbors and fellow parishioners, and I am so thankful that at least for this moment they can draw a breath free of fear that they won’t be snatched away from the lives that they have built, simply because their parents brought them here as children.
The only thing I know to do to help my neighbors who are enrolled in DACA is to write my congressmen to ask that they support legislation to grant citizenship to these young people who have proven themselves valued and contributing members of our society.
I am on my knees in prayer, God, because I’m struggling against the sin of hopelessness. How much good can my few coins do to help the thousands here in Utah alone who are stricken by COVID-19, or who don’t have a job because of it? How will me learning more help destroy the systemic racism in this country? What impact will my letters have as lawmakers consider how to address the 700,000 young people who live in fear of deportation even as they build lives for themselves in this country that has been their home since they were children?
Against my doubt I have the confessions of friends, who express the same feelings of helplessness, but who are taking actions similar to my own. Finding fellowship with them also points to the error of my sense of hopelessness, because it reminds me that nothing can be accomplished solely by my efforts. I belong, after all, not only to the Body of Christ but also to society. I’m not in this alone. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.”
So, perhaps my pennies added to those of my friends and neighbors will become dollars that can feed the hungry and help our Church continue its ministries. Maybe my whisper joined to their voices will become a shout so loud it can’t be ignored, so thunderous and sustained that we can at last effect meaningful change so that police will treat with dignity all the people they encounter, so that our nation will fulfill its promise to the young people enrolled in DACA, and so that we will, at last, see each other as brothers and sisters, each of whom has the same inviolable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This, then, is my prayer.