Coronavirus and a Lenten reflection on death
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March 10, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – We will all die eventually – but most likely not from the coronavirus. Although it’s still too soon to tell if coronavirus is more or less dangerous than the regular flu, the uncertainty has already generated considerable fear and hysteria worldwide. Global financial markets are plunging, millions are preparing for quarantine, major conferences and conventions are being cancelled, schools are closing, and churches are even cancelling public Masses. How should faithful Catholics respond, and does the world’s frenzied reaction offer us anything fruitful upon which to meditate?
Lent has traditionally been a time to reflect on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven. No one enjoys reflecting on death. It’s uncomfortable. But many saints have taught us that keeping our end in mind (Memento Mori) is fruitful for the salvation of our soul. Saint Francis de Sales has an excellent reflection on death in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life. Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught that reflecting on the Four Last Things is one of the most effective ways to draw closer to God and renounce sin and its consequences. Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote an entire book on the subject: Preparation for Death.
Reflecting on death forces us to come to terms with certain inescapable truths: namely, that (1) each of us will die; (2) none of us know when we will die; and (3) our eternal destiny depends on the state of our soul at the moment of death. We don’t know if we’ll die suddenly or if we will have a slow death. We can die tonight, tomorrow, next year, or in 50 years. We don’t know when, where, or how we will die. Our own Blessed Lord urges us in the Gospel of Matthew to always be ready because “the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Death is mysterious because we’ve never experienced it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what happens next.
As Catholics, we have the great blessing of the one true faith. Holy Mother Church teaches that our soul separates from our body at the moment of death. We immediately appear before our Lord for our personal judgment. We are then held to account for all that we have done, and all that we have failed to do. Therefore, we must make use of our precious time here on earth. We must live each and every day as though it were our last. We must examine our consciences at night and try to make a perfect act of contrition – assuming that we will not have another chance to reconcile with the Lord. We should receive the Eucharist worthily and often, and confess our sins regularly and with a firm purpose of amendment. We should pray regularly to our Blessed Mother for the grace of a holy death and for the grace of final perseverance.
But we should not fear death; after all, our Blessed Lord became man specifically to save us from our sin and to conquer death. We should have great hope in the Resurrection. We should be inspired by the lives of countless saints who sacrificed everything in this world for Christ and His Church.
Do we meditate regularly on heaven and hell, or has the father of lies distracted us from reflecting on eternity? Has the evil one instilled us with fear of death, or even despair? Are we too absorbed with the pressures of this world – the valley of tears – or do we take time throughout the day to remember the end for which we were created? We should not fear death; rather, we should only fear sin, for only sin can separate us from God.
So does this mean we should brush aside the coronavirus and act like it doesn’t exist? Of course not. We should take reasonable precautions to protect ourselves and those around us. But we should do so out of charity, not fear. After all, God urges us time and again in Holy Scriptures to “be strong and courageous” to “not be afraid” to “not be discouraged.” The hysteria surrounding coronavirus is an opportunity to reflect on our mortality. But it’s also an opportunity to repent and rejoice in God’s infinite mercy. We have the Good News and we must share it with this confused and hurting world – through our love, joy, and courage.
We should ask God, as we pray in the Universal Prayer, to:
Teach me to realize that this world is passing.
That my true future is the happiness of heaven,
That life on earth is short,
And the life to come eternal.
Help me to prepare for death
With a proper fear of judgment,
But a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death
To the endless joy of haven.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Paul M. Jonna is a partner with LiMandri & Jonna LLP, a civil litigation practice based in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Mr. Jonna also handles constitutional litigation, defending religious liberty and First Amendment rights, including current cases representing David Daleiden, Cathy Miller of Tastries Bakery, Stephen Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful, and Children of the Immaculate Heart.