Written by Fr Delargy and published in Irish News – Tuesday 7 April 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic exploded priorities were tested, with interesting results. When asked if rugby or gaelic sports were worth risking life for even the most avid fans were happy to say “We can wait” despite their passionate attachment to their club or county and despite all the great community potential of sports activities. Restrictions on free movement and meetings were accepted stoically. On another level as it became clear that committed, courageous frontline medical workers would be risking their health the question was asked; “can I reasonably expect another to risk life for me? What would I be willing to die for?
Assumptions were made. The British Government, observing the looming threat to the Health Service appealed to people to be ready to sacrifice themselves for the nation. According to the herd immunity theory 60% of the people would have to be infected before the nation became immune, but many would die in the process. The elderly faced the prospect of triage. However experts disagreed and the resounding public response was “We’re not so sure about that”.
On RTE the Taoiseach delivered an eloquent speech about the inevitable curbing of freedom and the need for national co-operation due mainly to the lack of sufficient medical resources. The “who would you die for question” was not ignored. It was assumed that the few would dedicate themselves to the health and safety of the many. I thought much of his language and sentiments was implicitly religious. As we approach Holy Week the Churches openly emphasise the transcendent value of self-sacrifice. Jesus our Lord willingly takes on the burden of suffering for others in order to be life-giving.
In imitation of Jesus we Christians find ourselves called to join ‘the few’ who are to be ready to sacrifice themselves in ways that go far beyond the call of duty. We identify with the selflessness of health workers and the predicament of the vulnerable elderly. How far should we go to help the least of our brothers and sisters in an emergency? St Francis de Sales presents Christian teaching simply, “the measure of love is to love without measure”. St Therese says, “when one loves, one does not calculate.” Won’t Christians then contemplate with equanimity the prospect of an early death so that others may live? Prayerful worship of God is a delight in itself and a stimulus to unselfish charitable activity because we are living in Christ’s presence in eternal peace. Let’s explore these admirable altruistic sentiments.
According to the philosopher Boethius eternity is the total, perfect possession of limitless life. Eternal peace is sharing in divine love and understanding, being gifted and giving. Human beings do not bring forth eternity out of themselves; they receive it as a gift, as participation in the fullness of divine life. We only enter into the joy of eternal life by the gift of God. It is from Jesus that we learn that it is by giving that we receive life to the full. On Holy Thursday our servant-Lord shows that he loves us infinitely and wants us to share in his love by helping others. The words and actions of Jesus as he washed his disciples’ feet are a reminder of our calling to serve in love too.
The Gospel of John stresses that eternal life is present now: “Truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life.” We look forward to the final coming of Jesus but His hidden glory already appears with his coming into the world. The last hour is already present. The voice of victory is already sounding: it is the word of Jesus. It makes a difference to the way we act. It prepares us to recognise Christlike love in others no matter who they are or where they come from.
As the epidemic spread its baleful poison worldwide the signs of eternal life were obscured. Now the healing response calls for heroism; we depend on each other and must deny ourselves so that others will live. Why not rely on Jesus, risen from the dead, who tells us that God hears his every word and that he walks with us and even lives within our hearts?
Now big decisions are being made. Do you want to be part of God’s plan? Is there anyone you are ready to die for? Yes of course! There are many people you love more than life itself. Think of them and how sacrificial love gives life. It is clearly Christlike to help the least of our brothers and sisters right now. It makes sense to avoid putting innocent and vulnerable people in danger of the virus and to keep your distance and stay at home where necessary. At home or as you pass by the Church you and I pray for everyone including public leaders. We all matter to God. Politicians sensibly appeal to self-interest, to heroism, to national pride. They reasonably show tough love since sinfulness hampers many from doing what is right. Is it not an act of faith for them to appeal to a spirit of self-sacrifice? We listen because human beings have a spiritual dimension that directs us beyond material considerations only.
Jesus said he came to enlighten our minds and open our eyes to goodness. Therefore we honour and respect those nurses, carers and doctors who are truly risking their health for other people. God bless them. We cherish those whose smiles and simple gestures in this time of uncertainty bring hope.
The elderly priest accepts in advanced years that he belongs to the chosen few who perhaps will not get the respirator that may be needed by others. But he trusts that he will get the best of palliative care as resources allow. As Christians we believe in Christ’s promise that eternal life begins now. It is a good time to be alive for indeed we live forever. The eternal love of God really does cast out fear and opens our eyes to goodness and joy.
So rejoice to see those committed servants of love who witness by their actions that we human beings are made for more than self. They are gifted to go beyond fear and selfishness and do what is honourable, life-giving and Christlike.