For most of us, the last two weeks have been like living in a washing machine on spin rinse. The speed of change has been bewildering and we have no compass to guide us in the world we have entered.
But our tradition and our experience as Catholics concerned to model our lives and to shape our world by Jesus’ values do offer us some ways of finding a way through it. Our Christian tradition is specially designed for disasters. Its story is built around finding life in the midst of death. It encourages us to recognise the disorientation, loss and grief that the Coronavirus crisis may bring us and to care for one another as we bear it. It also encourages us to stand helplessly with Mary by the Cross of so many in our society in the hope that no more people will have to hang there.
Our tradition and experience also emphasise reflection and conversation. They lead us to reflect on what matters in all the details of our changed lives – in the way we work, spend our time, shape our life at home and handle the restrictions placed on us.
For us as followers of Jesus, the question of what matters always comes down to who matters. What matters is the quality of our relationships: the deep ones to family and friends, to our colleagues at work, to the people we work with, to all the people involved in minimising the harm of the Coronavirus epidemic, and to the millions of Australians whose lives and livelihood at stake. Persons are at the heart of all the issues we meet in our lives.
Developing good personal, working and institutional relationships is key to our distinctive way of working and our communal life. That is why we reflect on these relationships in our daily routine and our conversations about how a more just Australia might emerge from the Pandemic. Perhaps we need to reflect more intentionally on them in the new and strange world we have entered. We shall need to change many things in our lives and our world. How to do this wisely is a matter for reflection.
Our Christian tradition is also conversational. In the Gospels, Jesus constantly asks questions about what we want. He engages us in conversation when he teaches. We, too, help vulnerable people to grow through respectful and caring conversation. We help each other to work happily and effectively through respectful and engaged conversation. We help our Church to adapt our ways of working to meet new situations and needs through a range of honest and respectful conversations.
To understand and adapt to the present crisis, we need to find ways of strengthening our reflection and conversation at all levels. Our conversations will be mostly at a distance. Distance often hardens. So perhaps the qualities most helpful to complement our conversations will be the gentling ones of empathy, kindness and good humour. These are central to the Gospel.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.