Status of the Issue 

The immensity of COVID-19’s impact shows death in dramatic fashion and on a grand scale. Mortality inherently invites individuals into contemplative spiritual exercises. Suffering and death are mysteries that often stimulate profound reflection, causing people to re-explore faith, while dusting off questions of purpose and identity. Pope Pius XII (1943) in his Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ said, “The Church is the society of those baptized, and who profess the faith of Christ, and who are governed by their bishops under the visible head, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.” The Pope’s remarks target Christianity’s most populous denomination but invoke a response that resonates throughout secularism in times of divisional upheaval. Christianity came into being when Jesus, who gradually revealed himself as the Christ, died on the Cross. The native Nazarene called forth the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, formally inaugurating another novel movement, namely Christianity. St. Paul later acknowledged followers of the new way with being members of one same Christ who accept Jesus as their prime sacrament and focal point.[1]

 

According to Roman Catholic doctrine, the church operating as the Mystical Body of Christ, exists across all generations in three dimensions. The first modality describes a “Church Militant,” proposing that its members must first struggle against the world, the flesh, and evil. This analogy references a primordial level that engages the physical (scientific) dimension. Later, the Church Suffering directs attention to more theologically derived concepts. The righteous who find awareness of God’s kingdom ultimately relate with the Church Triumphant. Unity and collaboration across all three stations fabricates the communion of saints. St. Paul uses the word “saints” to mean ‘set aside for God, acknowledging that the baptized are called to perfection, while recognizing incompleteness in this world. The church becomes universal when it encompasses the physical and spiritual worlds connects these to the Sacrament of Jesus. Who could be more configured then to lead with belief in an unseen virus than sacramental practitioners following an invisible God made visible? 

 

COVID- 19 vividly exposes gaps in secularism's and spiritualist's understanding of the common good versus individual rights and freedoms. Nations suffers with civil paralysis, when sacramental wisdom is dismissed from the public square.  Unrest and division dangerously cloud public health efforts to combat this pandemic and spiritualist's must offer their sacramental wisdom in defense of social order. [2]  Aristippus (435 BCE -356 BCE) lived in Northern Africa and was credited with founding hedonism. The student of Socrates, however, diverged from his mentor concerning common good questions. Aristippus argued that what an individual judges as pleasurable is good, and what they believe painful and stressful is terrible. Little of this pandemic resonates with pleasant, which should rally the church to expand its spiritual healing practice.[3] 

In the Reform tradition, “Faith yields justification and good works,” whereas Roman Catholic teaching acclaims that, “Faith and good works yield justification.”

           

          “What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save. If a brother or sister             has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them “goodbye and good luck, keep warm                 and well-fed,” but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that?[4]

 

The church’s work, taught by the early bishops carries a pragmatic and urgent message for the present generation. Secularism and faith must connect in balanced ways as both these endeavors struggle to advance the whole person.

The Gospels describe several healings in which Jesus proclaimed to the afflicted that mercy (forgiveness) absolved their sins (missing the mark).[5] Faith in Jesus is fundamentally linked to several physical and spiritual healings. The church functions as the penetrating voice of Christ ringing truth across the public airwaves. Often spiritualists stand as the sole advocate for the marginalized. Even the most ardent atheist, agnostic or polytheist, can acknowledge the social benefits that churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and indigenous sacred initiatives bring to broader society. Whenever Christians visit prisons, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or care for the lonely, they promulgate their founder's Christo-centric mission into secularism's busyness. Will this weightless COVID-19 virus become a stimulus that hears a global disjuncture advantaging the socially powerful, while holding the impoverished at bay? The post-pandemic church may experience diminished membership but can it be counted upon to champion the plight of marginalized persons.

Religious institutions remain large and influential non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In Canada, many pioneering religious orders, founded the countless hospitals, that historically nursed the poor and sick through perilous pandemics with grace and courage. A glance about the developed world today might want to look to spiritual expertise, to augment, the physical care being rendered by secular caregivers.  Humanity discovers that it cannot ignore, nor is it prudent, to exclude sacramental wisdom from scientific or sociological dialogs.  The expulsion of spirituality may be a secular aspiration, but the church must resist any inclination to exit the public square.

Fully alive communities exist through the efforts of multiple dedicated and active participants.  Mündel and Schugurensky (2008) stated, “In these three key areas people learn: instrumental skills related to their organization, learn to work with others, and learn about the role of serving.”[6] (p.50)   Bishop Emeritus, F. Henry, Diocese of Calgary (2012), once described the local church's role in society, when he said, “we fulfill our (Christian) mission more effectively when we make every effort to ensure a richer, stronger, more vibrant, and safer community of faith.” [7] (para 1) This study aims to present a theological reflection against a secular backdrop and lingering COVID-19 pandemic. 

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] For more description see  1 Cor 12:12-31; Col 1:18; 2:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:13

[2] From the American Bill of Rights, (1791) Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

[3] Derived from P. Daly, (2013) article quoting Pope Francis, The Church Should be a Hospital for Sinners, National Catholic Reporter.

[4] For additional context see the Epistle of James, 2:14-17.

[5] See a few Scriptural accounts for reference, from the Gospel of Luke, 7:48; Matthew, 9:2; Matthew, 9:5.

[6]See for additional explanation, Mundel, K., & Schugurensky, D. (2008). Community based learning and civic engagement. New Directions in Adult and Continuing Education, p.50.

[7] From communique issued by Bishop (Emeritus) Henry, (2012) Strengthening our Communities, para one.

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