Like Romano Guardini’s “The Lord”, there’s a closeness and an immediacy with Christ through the book. There’s a fresh renewed sense of what friendship with this person of Christ should look like and might feel like. Here’s Pakaluk in an early commentary in the book:
“People intuitively sense that where God is, their happiness is. Take this together with Jesus’ having clearly displayed that he could heal everyone and remove every evil and infirmity if he so willed, and it was natural that his appearance was seen as a harbinger of some kind of radical translation of the whole world into a perfect state.”
Washington feels largely emptied out since self-distancing and quarantine/lockdown really came into place in mid-March. And since Mayor Bowser’s formal stay-at-home order, the feeling of emptiness has increased somewhat. I still get out to go for runs, and public exercise is allowable along with other reasons to be out like heading for groceries, etc.
Americans in the millions have lost their jobs over the past few weeks, and unemployment claims are expected to continue to grow by the millions. Depending on how long this lasts, it’s possible we could be looking at Great Depression-level unemployment numbers.
In light of that, I’m especially thankful to still be working. And I’m grateful to be in Washington in this time and to still be able to head into the office periodically to pick up essential correspondence and do what needs to be done in person.
The sings of spring are all around and the days are growing increasingly beautiful. It’s tough to want to be indoors, even as we recognize that this self-distancing is prudent and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of demand on our doctors and hospital staffs. Hopefully we can turn the corner soon, and figure out how to restore work to those who have lost it in the weeks and months to come.
I’ve been letting too many of the days under quarantine go by from waking to sleeping without meaningfully getting outdoors. As our typical routines have evaporated, the simple interludes in our day that we end up taking for granted or complain about turn out to be key bookends that give structure to our days: our commute, stepping our for coffee or lunch, taking a walk during an afternoon call, heading to an evening dinner or event, heading to noon Mass, etc.
All of that has effectively disappeared, and so now we have to do it intentionally. Today I decided to get out during lunchtime and got in a nice ~5.5 mile run along the Potomac. And tonight I’m meeting a colleague in Arlington for a good walk and conversation.
Simple things are also essential things and it’s good not to take them for granted, but to engage each of them as a gift.
As we debate the right prudential balance between the harms posed by the health crisis on the one hand and the economic crisis on another, it’s helpful to look back and get a sense of how things were done in the past. An aspect of the debate has been what we should classify as “essential” versus “non-essential” businesses, associations, and purposes. Basically, what must we keep open out of necessity and what should be closed in order to diminish the spread of the virus.
It’s been a legitimate frustration for many that some states are classifying abortion and Planned Parenthood as “essential” on the one hand, and that the Catholic bishops across the country have stopped public Masses—and that some governors are not only labeling churches as “non-essential”, but that Bill de Blasio recently threatened “permanent” closure of any religious institutions in New York that decide to convene for worship. We have to be careful to avoid using a bureaucratic vocabulary and avoid the false “essential” versus “non-essential” binary which obscures more than it reveals.
When it comes to the closures of churches, Bishop Regis Canevin shows that even a century ago it was understood as prudent to close churches for a limited time:
The Department of Public Health throughout the country are taking unusual precautions to prevent the further spread of influenza which is already epidemic in a number of places. In some districts of Western Pennsylvania churches and schools are closed and all public meetings are forbidden. It is indeed a great hardship for Catholics to be deprived of the opportunity to assemble for Mass and other divine services in their churches; but when, in the judgment of the civil authorities, whose duty it is to safeguard public health, it becomes necessary to close churches and schools and take other strong precautions against epidemics of virulent disease, the only rule for pastors and people is to co-operate with the civil authorities of their district, obey the laws, and comply with regulations that are enacted for the common good.
In the city of Pittsburgh, churches are not to be open for public services; no congregation or group of persons is allowed to assemble in them. Public meetings are prohibited.
Regis Canevin, Bishop of Pittsburgh
What is essential in a time like this is sacrifice, humility, and a willingness to suffer in any number of ways—even if that simply means suffering alongside those who are physically ill from the virus, or economically devastated from the economic crisis that this virus is causing, or who are suffering in other ways at this time.
This is what solidarity is about: standing alongside one another, asking God for the graces necessary to live well through this time, and persevering in a spirit of hope and service to those in our lives who may be vulnerable in all sorts of ways.
It’s spring in Washington and flowers are starting to bloom. Though few are out to enjoy them in this season of quarantine.
Karen Swallow Prior and Jen Pollock Michel dialogue on autonomy and true freedom in an eight minute conversation on “why freedom needs boundaries”. Worth watching/listening:
Karen Swallow Prior begins the conversation by reminding us that there really is no thing as autonomy. We are born into communities, times, and places, and everything that makes up who we are comes from others. In other words, our particularities come from somewhere outside ourselves. As Christians we understand that God determines the things that make up the individual self.
Jen Pollock Michel points that it can be burdensome to believe in yourself. Humans tend to be unreliable and fail everyday. But Christianity helps us face the truth about ourselves: there’s good that I don’t do and evil that I do, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, and if our only ethic is to believe in ourselves, we’re left in a truly hopeless position. We need other people!
Karen agrees, adding that we not only need other people, but that meaning and purpose come from beyond the human realm.
Jen mentions the book Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, which chronicles the stories of people who at the end of their lives discover that finding meaning outside of themselves leads to a more joyful and full life. This is true, Karen adds, not only at the end but in every other stage of life. All throughout life we are changing and growing, but to believe in ourselves means to believe in something different in every stage of life.
It’s ironic, Jen notes, that we think believing in yourself is the way to freedom when it reality it only leads to slavery. Freedom always tends towards flourishing when we have our boundaries, because those boundaries are established for our good. We often think of obedience as negative boundaries, but they are actually meant to free us.
Finally, Karen concludes that our development never happens in a vacuum. We always cultivate our desires based on who or what we set our eyes on.