By Jeanette Arnquist
My friend, Paati, whose husband Dan recently died at the age of 53 from COVID 19 after 8 weeks of hospitalization, posted this on Facebook: “COVID 19 is real. It’s not about you, it’s about those whom you love.”
She is right. “It” is not about us as individuals, choosing for ourselves because we really are all in this together. As St. Pope John Paul II taught us in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, “We are all really responsible for all.” (# 38) The choices we make about our behavior is the time of pandemic impact our entire community. That is where Catholic Social Teaching about the Common Good comes in.
For example, if I were to choose to go hang out in bars and become ill with the Corona virus, I would almost certainly infect my husband. Probably both of us would become very ill, because we are old. Our children would probably expose themselves in an effort to take care of us. Lacking professional personal protective equipment and skills, they might also become infected. And who knows how far they might spread the disease. Some of us would no doubt require hospitalization, placing an additional burden on overstressed medical facilities and workers. And some of us might die.
If we love one another we will make every effort not to spread the disease.
In a previous column I used this quote from the documents of Vatican II for a definition of Common Good in Catholic Social Thought.
It is imperative that no one...indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life. Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #30
I am adding this quote from Galatians 5: 13-14
You were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the midst of this pandemic, it is time to analyze matters in the light of this principle. How do we love and serve one another as ourselves in this unprecedented time? I think the starting point is understanding that our God given liberty is not for self-indulgence, but for love. There is no tension between liberty and love.
If I love my family, my neighbor, the people I see regularly but don’t know and the people I will never meet, I will strive to keep them safe and to keep myself safe too. Liberty does not give me the right to do anything I happen to feel like doing in a given moment.
One of the sisters who taught me in elementary school used to say “Your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” Love prevents me from actively hurting another person. It also prevents me from doing things live driving under the influence of a controlled substance. It prevents me from doing all kinds of things that might endanger the lives of others. That includes engaging in risky behavior because it is fun or because it makes me feel the way I want to feel. If I love myself and others, I will not use liberty for its own sake.
California has suspended singing during liturgy because there is a great deal of evidence that singing can promote the spread of the Corona virus. (Count your blessings. In Arizona the spread of Covid-19 is so out of control that the Diocese of Tucson has suspended all public Masses again, after just a few weeks of limited, socially distanced outdoor Masses.) I appeal to you, my friends, to follow this directive with the common good in mind.
Stay home when you can. Avoid large gatherings. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.
If we really love God, ourselves and others, we will use our liberty not only to avoid harming people but to find ways to serve them. We will express our faith by working to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit those in prison and comfort those who mourn. In this time when many of us are social distancing and perhaps in quarantine, it is a challenge to find new ways in which to do this. In some cases, mine for example, I need to find ways to do this from home. I can still write checks. I can still write letters and make phone calls. And I can vote for the Common Good by mail.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.