Maintaining total health in a COVID-19 World
What is it to be human? It means, in one sense, to possess a soul and a body which are closely united (CCC 365). St. Paul pleads for the Thessalonians that God might sanctify their whole selves, spirit, soul, and body, for the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Human health, therefore, consists in spiritual as well as physical health. As Catholics, we are aware of this truth but sometimes fail to remember just how closely related these aspects of our nature are. There is much to learn from spiritual health in striving towards peak physical performance. Equally, achievements in physical health shed light on how best to cultivate virtues in our spiritual soul. Both our bodily condition and that innermost part of our hearts are created by God and so are good, deserving of our love and work in preserving them to achieve fulness of life.
Being vigilant and proactive in spiritual health
Recently, the Prime Minister announced a nationwide lockdown as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have abandoned everything at the threat of disease. We have cancelled all plans, employed extra protection, and encouraged our loved ones to do the same. We have avoided places where the virus might spread and have now limited our physical boundaries in order that we might protect ourselves and, importantly, others. May this serve as a reminder of the level of diligence needed in our spiritual life, too. To be vigilant and proactive for spiritual health, to avoid sin and spiritual sickness at all times, and not to leave it so late to take action. How often do we put off what we are told to do because there’s always a later date to strive for holiness? When we see the number of coronavirus cases double or triple in a matter of days, have we ever truly considered the same effect sin has in the world? Therefore, let it also remind us to be kind, despite the fear, and let this time not be a cause for spiritual sickness in pursuit of physical health. How we use this time in lockdown is crucial. It is not a time when life is ‘put on hold’, or a few weeks wasted just ‘getting by’. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1); now is the time saints are made, dear friends, do not forget! As St John Henry Newman encourages us, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”. How can we enter into this time, a time filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and separation, to grow and to change for the better?
Are you aware that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)? That same Spirit is a Spirit of power, and love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). We do not need to go ‘out there’ to find God. The doors of our churches may be closed, but that does not mean the door is closed on our relationship with Him. He is not locked inside. He lives in you and desires to make His dwelling with you (John 14:17). Let us become passionately in love with His presence. There is an interior freedom, all the more powerful when our physical freedom has been limited, that cannot ever be taken away from us. Discovering that freedom comes as a result of an outpouring and strengthening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You might like to consider which specific gifts you would like to pray for, but I will suggest two in this time of great need: the gift of fortitude and the gift of fear of the Lord.
Praying for gifts of the Holy Spirit
The gift of fortitude inspires and equips a person to endure great things, including things that cause much pain and hardship, with a spirit of power and strength. “In the world you have tribulation; but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This gift perfects the cardinal virtue of fortitude, which equips one with the ability to face the most difficult trials, to renounce even one’s own self. In his book Walking with Jesus, Pope Francis encourages us to think of the parable of the sower, who’s seed falls on different types of soil. Through fortitude, Pope Francis tells us, the Holy Spirit liberates the soil of our hearts from sluggishness, uncertainty and fear. This means that this gift sparks a fire within us to constantly strive, with a new heart and new zeal, for that which is just and good. In the midst of a global pandemic, we should equip ourselves with this enthusiasm. St Thomas Aquinas identified the fruits of this gift as patience and longanimity (ST II-II, Q. 139).
The gift of fear of the Lord empowers a person to reject that which separates them from God, particularly attachment to any created thing, out of love and reverence for Him. In this current time, this gift helps us to let go of all those things we were holding on to that were not essential, or that were perhaps hindering, our growth and journey with God. This gift also encourages us to look to Him, who is love, and on whom we entirely depend for any good thing. It should inspire us with a sense of adoration. It is totally normal, and understandable, to be feeling afraid and anxious during this pandemic. These feelings are not emotions we should feel guilty about or reject in pursuit of always displaying a sense of calm and happiness, as if holiness consists merely in how joyful we can be. The Spirit can, however, strengthen this gift of fear of the Lord to help us hand over our fears to Him, to allow our burden to be lightened, and to rest our head on His shoulder with complete trust.
How to maintain spiritual health in lockdown
Finally, I wish to share with you some practical tips and suggestions for maintaining total health in a COVID-19 world. Firstly, please do stay at home if you are able. Our physical health is important, and we must remember those who we may be putting at risk by putting our own needs and desires before theirs. It is prudent to follow the guidance and help to protect those key workers who do not have the privilege to stay at home. We are not called to be a people driven by selfishness, greed, or irrationality. Sacrifice your freedom and your comfort for somebody else. Act with a spirit of love and self-control.
Secondly, create a routine of prayer (spiritual health) and exercise (physical health). In our house, we have agreed to three set times of prayer each day together, ranging from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. We have not done this before, but saw this as a great opportunity to grow together in faith and to hand this period over to God. The Church has a wealth of wisdom to give to us, including the Divine Office, so you might like to structure your day with these beautiful and universal prayers of the Church. Other online prayerful resources are available, including the readings of the day and Catholic Voices’ own weekly webinars, all of which can be found on faithinisolation.com , or catholicvoices.org.uk/cv-connect. I have found it incredibly enriching to hear a short homily each day. Physical exercise, too, is incredibly important. It helps to relieve the mind of anxieties, helps to engage our bodies with our current state of life, and gives glory to God by honouring what God has created.
Thirdly, reach out to your friends and family as well as your neighbours in isolation if you can. Give people a call, check to see if they would like to chat, and offer to help them with any essentials they might need. Give yourself to others in a unique way and do not neglect those you assume will be ‘fine’. We are living out St. Mother Teresa’s prayer that we might truly love, starting with our own homes, and then our neighbours, in order that we might begin to change the world.
Building the Church at home
A few years ago, Pope Francis wrote that, “We sometimes speak of a Church that has its doors closed, but here we are contemplating much more than a Church with open doors, much more! We must, together, build this ‘home’, build this Church, make this ‘home’. A Church with closed doors or open doors; the task is to move forward and help build the Church”. In a society where the concept of ‘home’ has long been lost for many, being forced to stay indoors will bring a host of new challenges as we continue in our pursuit to beat coronavirus. That is why it is a matter of urgency that we build our Church now, we make this home now. We do this by individually growing in our relationship with Him who created us, who knows us, and holds this time in His hands. Do not let this period of strife for physical health be a cause for spiritual sickness but instead an opportunity for radical spiritual growth. I wish to stress one thing again; this is the time saints are made. I pray that you and I are among them.
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