The global coronavirus pandemic has made it clear how interconnected, vulnerable and fragile mankind is--and how undivided we are in our unity against death. As fear of this disease haunts Americans' minds and hearts to the point it's paralyzing our nation, I'm reminded how many times Christ told us, "Be not afraid," and I feel compelled to ask a serious question. If we as Catholics truly believe that when we receive Christ in the Eucharist we’re receiving “the fountain of immortality,” shouldn’t we be more stouthearted in the face of this news than the secular culture around us is?
As we journey through Lent, joyfully anticipating the bright new day of Christ’s Easter Resurrection, this seems an appropriate time to take stock of our spiritual lives and remember what that word salvation really means. When the prophet Isaiah 12:2 says, “I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation,” what’s he talking about? What exactly has Christ saved us from?
Well, of course, the short answer is that he’s saved us from death.
Hold on a minute. Didn’t Christ come to save us from sin? Yes, but there’s more to it than that, explains Wyoming Catholic College Byzantine chaplain Father David Anderson. “St. Athanasius says the problem with us isn’t ultimately sin. God could have forgiven all the sins of the world gratuitously — without the Incarnation. But to get rid of death, which is the source of sin, God had to become incarnate and take upon himself not only sin but also death.” He points to a quotation in the Book of Wisdom: “God created man for life and immortality, but by the envy of the devil, death [not sin] entered into the world.”
“So our Lord Jesus Christ our Savior, the eternal Son of God, comes to die voluntarily in order that he might destroy the power of death,” Father Anderson continues. “That’s what we are preparing for now as we journey through Lent toward the greatest celebration of the year — the destruction of death. The destruction of death includes the destruction of sin, but sin is the symptom and death is the disease.”
“In the Byzantine tradition,” Father Anderson adds, “hundreds of times in the course of the Paschal celebration, we’re going to sing, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.’ Sometimes that word ‘trampling’ is translated as ‘conquering.’ But the original word in Greek literally means he ‘stomped and smashed it to bits.”
Furthermore, Father Anderson reminds us, eternal life doesn't begin only at some point "after we die." Eternal life in Christ begins now.
In a reassuring March 13 letter on the coronavirus, Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago reminded the faithful that “every test sent is by the will of God” and that much information we receive through the mass media is “incomplete” or “incorrect.”
“We are a people of faith, and that is why we see God’s Providence in this event which is teaching today’s world to stop, listen and understand the language of God, the language of his mercy and love,” Bishop Benedict wrote. Observing that this situation gives us a “unique opportunity” to love one another, he added, “Let us protect ourselves, not only from this virus, which can destroy our body, but also from the virus that can kill our soul, through panic, anger, censure and confusion.”
As the coronavirus reveals just how vulnerable we are as a race and a nation, fears of sickness and death have many Americans running scared. Thankfully, as people who know the meaning of salvation, we’ve been given the faith and hope to rise above fear and be for those around us a center of calm in the midst of the storm.
Sue Ellen Browder writes from Lander, Wyoming, home of Wyoming Catholic College.