We Are Not Powerless in this Testing Time

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By Sister Cynthia Serjak

The pandemic has invaded our lives with full force. We have experienced lives upended, we grieve our mounting death toll, we are frightened and we don’t know what will happen next. Most of all, we feel powerless. You can’t bomb a virus, you can’t shoot it; you can yell at it but it won’t listen. Perhaps our feeling of powerlessness is showing up in unaccountable anger, even rage. Perhaps it is expressed in blame and even curses at the supposed origins of the pandemic. Or perhaps, as happened to me in the middle of a video conference call, a fit of the giggles serves as a release of pent-up emotion.

When we feel powerless, we reach for anything that will help us to feel just a little bit of control. Mowing the lawn might help, doing the laundry or, as our better selves, reaching out even more than we usually do to those in need. Helping to deliver meals, sewing masks, putting our art or our music online, and, most of all, being obedient to the norms that we are told will help. It seems like a little, but it’s what we can do.

Christians believe that on Pentecost, the Spirit came in a powerful way and opened up whole new lives for the disciples. All you have to do is read the end of Luke’s gospel and then keep reading into the Acts of the Apostles to be convinced of this. The difference in the apostles is stunning. They have become whole new people, and they are courageous, prophetic healers and teachers.

We are in the same mold, you and I, and we are challenged now to continue to believe that good will come from this testing time, that the world community will decide to live differently, in a way that ensures that those who are most in need are cared for, that the terrible inequities highlighted by the spread of this virus will finally be tended. We are, in the end, not at all powerless. We have the power to decide every day how we will be in the world. Will we let our fear control us or will we be courageous, not in taking on the virus, but in taking on the problems that the virus reveals to us?

While we must be separate, we can strengthen our spiritual connections with each other and with all those on Earth, particularly those who suffer. In the stillness of our quarantine, we can spend time reflecting about what’s important for us to take into the future. We can determine how we shall change, and how we shall encourage one another into the new life that we are being invited to by this terrible tragedy. We can change our laws, we can change our systems, we can change our economies, we can finally live Catholic social teaching in its fullness, respecting the dignity of every person on Earth.

So, let’s think about what power we have now, and how we can use it. Perhaps we can’t stop this virus, but we can make sure it’s the last one that we need to finally wake up to the challenges that are ours.