Father Peter's Reflection
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
The more that I learn about our culture and society the more that I’m convinced that we can learn a lot from the lessons of a global pandemic. No, I don’t think God sent us this pandemic as a punishment. I’m a Christian and I believe what Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “Your heavenly Father…makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Our God is a God of love and blessings (1 John 4:7-21). I believe that this pandemic is an opportunity to learn and grow.
There are a lot of lessons here, but I’d like to reflect on just two. First, our 21st Century “I”, “Me”, “Have it your way”, “you do you”, and “Every [wo]man is an island” culture of hyper-individualism can now be more clearly seen for how toxic that it is. St. Paul said in Romans 12:2:
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
I think we can see that hyper-individualism has led us to believe that as individuals our lives are not really connected with everyone else on this planet. We have lived as if we were an island. We have bought, sold, loved, made war, voted, and prayed as if we are self-sufficient and disconnected individuals. Now we can clearly see how interconnected our lives really are. We are so connected that people who we have never met in a place that we might have never heard of can get sick and then in a few days the whole world could catch this new virus. Not only that but we now need to intentionally disconnect (social distancing) so that we can struggle to get a handle on this pandemic. We were so interconnected before and we never really knew it because we were living in the delusion of our own individualism.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction of how interconnected all our lives and destinies really are. We believe that the power of one person, one life, and one choice can transform the entirety of creation. It was through just one person that sin entered the world and then all were affected by the power of sin. Then it was just through the life of one person, just one, Jesus of Nazareth the power of sin was undone, and the possibility of salvation was brought to everyone. One life can change the lives of everyone! That is both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge is that we need to step back from a conformity to this age and its thinking by allowing our minds to be renewed. The more that we cease thinking of ourselves as individuals and beginning to think of ourselves as members of the family of God’s children, the whole human race, the more that we can begin to discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing to the Lord of all.
The second lesson is a lesson about prayer. Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert for 40 days to be alone and pray. We are being led by health experts into social distancing and self-isolation. The lesson here is that we might be able to take this time as a type of surprise, and maybe unwanted, a time to imitate Jesus. Even after those 40 days Jesus would often withdraw into isolation to pray (Luke 5:16). Prayer can happen amid the busyness and activity of normal life, but the best prayer happens when we take time apart and choose to be alone with God. While we may not have chosen to be isolated at this time, we can choose to bring God along. I believe that we can make this difficult time a time of incredible growth in our prayer life by imitating Jesus’s way of praying while apart from others. I also believe that this is a time to allow our minds to be renewed in the wisdom of God which tells us that we are not rugged individuals.
With all of this in mind it is important to add that much of this spiritual growth would need to take place after we have begun the work of grief. Many of us are losing so much. Especially our seniors, who are losing such a meaningful time of their fourth year here at Elon, will need to grieve. Grieving is a good and holy thing. There isn’t enough space here to go deeply into the work of grief but please consider this; grieve first then grow.
Father Peter Tremblay has been the Associate Chaplain for Catholic Life since 2016. He is a member of the Franciscan religious community and was ordained a Catholic Priest in 2012. Peter served as an associate pastor at St. Paul Church in Kensington, CT as well as a theology and philosophy teacher at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore, MD.
Peter earned a Masters of Divinity degree from the Washington Theological Union in 2011. He works hard to advance the multifaith work of the Truitt Center especially Jewish and Catholic interfaith activities.