Editorial: A Franciscan Response to COVID-19

Tau cross and Marl Soehner, OFM

By now, no one needs to tell you about the impact of the pandemic we’re experiencing. There are a great number of inconveniences. There is also a lot of fear and confusion. Social distancing and the rate of change make all of our daily lives more difficult.

Sometimes we need to go back to our faith, though, to get perspective. Our faith tells us what to do with our feelings, our fear, our inconveniences, our reduced options for social connection. My brother Richard Rohr recaps a dictum from psychology when he states: “Any pain that is not transformed is always transmitted.”

This fear and loneliness could be a worse contagion that we spread unwittingly. It’s OK to have feelings, but not to let the feelings have us. I get grumpy and fearful, for example, and then maybe I snap at the brother who’s making dinner for us. He doesn’t know what to do with his feelings. He goes out and kicks the dog. That’s not a good thing. That’s the kind of contagion I’m talking about. On a massive level, it leads to poverty, mass shootings, and war.

Our Baptism into Christ is not a flu shot against such feelings of fear and confusion that are part of the human condition. It’s what we do with our feelings that can change things.

The Road to Transformation

This experience reminds us how to transform pain. The secret is not to waste this suffering but allow it to be transformed by the love of Christ. St. Francis of Assisi himself felt pain. He felt a lot of these feelings. But he learned how to take his own hurts and pains directly to Christ. He touched his nailed hands to the nailed hands of Christ.

St. Francis practiced this to such a high degree that his own body bore the marks of his friend Jesus, the crucified, out of a desire to share that love with his friend. To share his sufferings, large or small, with Jesus became the road to transformation.

This is not a situation of our choosing, but a situation that’s been given to us. In the Morning Offering, we used to say, “We offer our prayers, our works, our joys, and our sufferings of this day” to Jesus. We can still say that prayer! For Christians, the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for transforming our sufferings.

Connecting Amid Social Distancing

This Lenten practice reminds us of our connection with all those other people who are suffering throughout the world: the poor, the dispossessed, the forgotten. In Christ Jesus, we know that we are connected by genuine bonds that social distancing cannot break.

So let’s check in on our elderly neighbors, let’s practice caution around large groups, and let’s wash our hands. Then—only then—put those washed hands into the hands of Christ. No hardship, no disease, no fear can stop us from experiencing the love of Christ.

I’d like you to know that the Franciscans care about each one of you. Your daily prayer requests through Franciscan.org, FranciscanMedia.org, or StAnthony.org are reaching us. We’re reading those prayer requests. We’re praying for each of you and with each of you.

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