At all times and in all places, Christians are people of hope, living our lives in the light of the Risen Lord. How might this translate into our day to day approaches during the time of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic?
1. Cooperate with health authorities
Ensure our messaging and behaviour is in line with the latest advice from our health authorities. As Christians, we recognise we have a higher authority in Jesus Christ, and yet we are the Church in the world, and thank God for the gift of intellect, expertise and care offered by health professionals.
2. Be supportive of leadership
Our leaders: political, religious and community-based, are developing approaches in line with evolving advice from health authorities. How can we practice patience and show support to our leaders during this challenging period?
3. Fast from despair and selfishness
As Christians, Jesus calls us to love our own self, and to trust in the God who loves us beyond measure. How do we show self-love and care? Be kind to our self, treat our self to a chocolate or good book or movie. Be the good news of the Gospel and seek out good news stories and share them. We are called to love one another. Offer acts of kindness, either through letting someone into a traffic queue, to taking a roll of toilet paper out of our trolley and offering it to our neighbour. Surprise people with our generosity.
4. Fast from judgement
There are stories emerging of those who are buying extra items from shopping centres, not to hoard, but to share with neighbours who have self-isolated or otherwise unable to travel to shops. As Christians, we are called not to judge, and certainly not to socially exclude people from different cultures based on groundless fears of their association with the virus.
5. Cultivate our prayer life
Bring our worries, doubts, joys and sorrows to Jesus Christ. He seeks to listen to us and to help bear our burdens. To contemplate the face of Christ, practice Christian meditation and other forms of spiritual discipline help us build up our relationship with our loving God.
6. Seek to understand and help explain changes to religious practices
There are good health reasons for all the changes to our religious practices, and it helps if we do not simply change our behaviour but understand the rationale. Also, who may need extra help understanding these changes in our own social networks? It may be particularly confusing for those for whom English is a second language.
7. Offer spiritual comfort to those who are spiritually challenged
For those who are particularly wedded to a particular religious practice, seek out spiritual comfort from our leadership so that they do not cultivate false ideas that they are doing the wrong thing by God or their faith. For instance, for those who receive communion on the tongue, there is a wonderful explanation of the dignity of receiving communion on the hands by the fourth century saint, Cyril.
8. Challenge religious superstition and encourage devotion
Be prepared to counter false teachings in a charitable way. Christians are not exempt from coronavirus if we pray in a certain way, touch certain objects, or practice a particular devotion. However, devotions, when they cultivate our love for God and strengthen our faith, are wonderful practices.
9. Cultivate the wisdom of elders and those who have experienced hardship
We respect the dignity of all, yet this is not only in our care for one another. We also call upon the giftedness of elders and those who have been through hardship. There is a powerful witness in the story-telling – particularly for our young people –- of those who have survived war, famine, illness, abuse and persecution.
10. Social distancing does not mean social isolation
How do we ensure that we continue to connect with our neighbour? While we seek to preserve physical health through distance, our emotional, psychological and spiritual health requires ongoing social interactions.
11. Be creative – if stopping one thing start three more – postpone, rather than cancel, and turn challenge into opportunity (crisis)
If your group or event can no longer happen, use the word “postpone” rather than “cancel” and brainstorm at least three creative ways to replace what you are missing. Catch up via phone, mail a gift, or break into smaller sub-groups for shorter well-spaced gathering.
12. Develop your spiritual language around suffering so as to be able to converse with people who may have questions and doubts at this time
As a Christian, people may ask for your interpretation of events or simply be looking for answers in a space and time of vulnerability and fear. How might we deepen our response to speak of a compassionate, loving God who suffers with us, and longs for us to live life to the full?
13. Practice the art of accompaniment – recognising that many people have pains and sorrows beyond the pandemic
Pope Francis encourages us to become skilled in the art of accompaniment, of walking alongside our neighbour, listening and encountering them in their joys and struggles. How might we deepen our listening during this time, being sensitive to people’s pains and sorrows.
14. Develop positive, intentional and prayerful virtual community support
Plan now with others how to connect via social media platforms or even a teleconference, to regular, prayerful fellowship in the absence of physical meetings.
15. Create a watch list of people who are self-isolated – develop care packages
Be alert to those who are needing to self-isolate and find ways to develop care packages to help them through this time.
16. Assist those who are isolated and non-tech savvy
Be aware of those in your neighbourhood who may be isolated. Do they require support? Do they need help setting up ways to remain informed and communicate with others with the aid of technology?
17. Cultivate a neighbourhood spirit whereby we offer to do shopping for others – maybe a street newsletter – share possessions, watch out for those in need
This is a time for the spirit and strength of neighbourhoods to shine.
18. Show particular concern for those in hospitals, prisons, detention centres, aged care facilities
Consider Jesus’ call to go to the margins, to the ones sometimes forgotten by our society.
19. Cultivate our joy
We recognise as Christians that there is a faith, hope and love that is beyond this present life. The quiet joy and confidence we exhibit through this time will be a sign of hope and witness to our belief that this current crisis is not the end of the story. Indeed, we are invited into God’s story of love for each of us.
Richard McMahon is the Director of Pastoral Planning and Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta.