2020 Religion Column Art

The disappointment from the cancellation of “March Madness” caused me to meditate on what it is that makes this event so compelling. One of the things we invariably hear about the winning team is that they are ‘family,’ they sacrifice personal good for the good of the team, that they work in beautiful harmony (teamwork).

The winners tell us that there is no “I” in team. These are admirable traits and valuable life-lessons. But they are all seen vicariously from the perspective of a spectator.

In the present crisis, we have been called into a field of battle against the COVID-19 virus. This is not a spectator event; we are participants, and the consequences of winning or losing will be measured not only economically, but in people’s lives.

We are being challenged to form a team for which the same lessons apply: we need to work together in harmony, be disciplined, and sacrifice personal freedoms and preferences for the greater good (team). We form a team that works together to combat the coronavirus. How are we doing?

At first glance, the hoarding of things like hand sanitizer and, of all things, toilet paper, indicate that while there is no “I” in team, there exists some “me” therein. There appears to be a need to be in control, a certain “everyone for him/herself” attitude among some of us. In addition, there seems to be a bit of ignorance (or denial) about the seriousness and communal nature of the situation, even among our leaders.

On the other hand, there is a great amount of generosity, a willingness to sacrifice and reach out to others who need help that I have seen among my parishioners and others in Maryville. It is edifying to see people who are willing and able to sacrifice for the sake of others. This is what disciples of Christ look like.

Christ says that the disciple who is greatest is the one who serves the rest. He says, “unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Here Christ is talking not so much about natural death, but about dying to self-will, what St. Paul calls the flesh, and loving God and neighbor. It looks like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night before he died, or people pooling their resources so that all may have the necessities of life.

The COVID-19 crisis calls us to make choices: are we living for ourselves, or for others? We see Jesus’ answer by looking at him nailed to the cross, suffering and dying for us. We see St. Peter and the disciples fleeing in fear, then regretting their choices and coming back to serve, eventually unto death by martyrdom. This is a time to consider, in prayer, not just the personal consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, but the underlying values which govern our actions, our orientation in life.

These days as we await the order to “stay at home” and limit even more our ‘freedom’ to move about and be active, it would behoove us to stop and consider the situation from a larger perspective even than our national self-interest. That perspective is one we gain from entering into a dialogue with God in prayer — it looks like we will have the time for it.

— Fr. Albert Bruecken, OSB

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