COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: The Weight of the World
When I was a teenager, I remember my older brother having a set of weights along with a bench in the garage. I tried lifting a few times but never really derived any joy from it. I think I would rather watch paint dry, or run four miles.
It has been many years since I lifted weights, so many that I actually cannot remember when. The other morning, however, I felt as though I was bench pressing the world. In other words, I could feel “the weight of the world.” In fact, the weight was so heavy that it awakened me at 4:30 a.m. I tossed and turned but could not fall back to sleep. Then I began trying to name this weight.
I think part of the weight is in the unrelenting deluge of those who are dying daily. It just won’t stop, let alone slow down. I hesitate to insert numbers here because every day they expand.
The growing total of those dying from this virus not only engenders sadness and fear, but also brings us face to face with our own mortality. The psalmist in Psalm 49 warns that not even the rich can escape death for, “he would never have enough to remain alive always and not see destruction” (Ps 49:9-10). The psalmist also declares that no one can take anything with them when they die (cf. Ps 49:18). Death is inevitable for every human being. Only God knows the day or the hour. As St. Paul reminds us, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (1 Thes 5:2). This reality is a huge weight for sure.
But there is more to this weight. There is the excruciating suffering taking place across the globe with those afflicted with this invisible poison. What is noteworthy is that much, if not all, of this suffering is being imposed innocently, as people did little if anything to deserve it. Nevertheless, this innocent suffering helps us all to identify with Jesus during this Holy Week. He endured suffering and trial for us even though he was innocent. The Suffering Servant song from the prophet Isaiah, the portion we hear on Good Friday, notes, “He was spurned and avoided by men, / a man of suffering, knowing pain. … Yet it was our pain that he bore, / our sufferings he endured” (Is 53:3-4).
The weight of the world is not just found in the innocent number of deaths and those afflicted, but also in the insurmountable economic impact that has resulted in layoffs, furloughs and shattered dreams for business owners of all sizes.
As a pastor, I wonder how the Church will recover. Next to God’s divine grace, the Church relies upon the gratuitous generosity of her faithful to realize the mission. With churches closed for the foreseeable future coupled with rising unemployment, we as a Church are going to have to find ways to do more with less. And what about the very competent and dedicated lay people who work for the Church? Will they still have a job? Their work is not just a job but a vocation. They become family.
Finally, there is the pressing weight of worrying about when this is all going to end. When will we experience normal again? Indeed, there is so much weighing heavily upon each of us. Perhaps we need to focus less on lifting these weights and more on surrendering them to God.
St. Philip Neri offers some great advice. He says, “Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if he wants anything of you, he will fit you for the work and give you strength.”
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.