Faith and Reason in a Time of Crisis – Lessons Learned for the Pandemic

The Catholic Church has experienced a prolonged crisis in its failure to protect children and in the cover-up and lack of accountability for bishops. There is much work to be done in righting the ship and in healing the Catholic communion, especially the pain of victim-survivors. In looking to the origins of the mistakes that were made, one can see many instances where leaders did not employ the wisdom of our Catholic tradition and God-given reason. In betraying the demands of the Gospel and not employing the light of reason, Church leaders made decisions deleterious to the good of the Church and those most vulnerable. Cardinal Sarah of Africa has said, “we don’t need reform, we need saints.” The reality is that we need both – we need faith and reason in a time of crisis.

Now to the global crisis of Coronavirus (COVID-19) which has wreaked havoc on lives, public health, our way of life, and our financial stability. As above, Catholics should be guided by faith and reason in our response to the pandemic. Pope Francis’ decisions, exhortations, and calls for universal prayer have manifested both faith and reason. Yes, we need to pray, pray, pray – everyday and consistently for those who are suffering and for a mitigation of the virus and its attendant suffering. God, as sovereign Lord, extends his hand of grace in our time of need and walks beside us in our suffering and grief. We know this by faith.

I was moved that members of our parish staff and others worked so hard to produce a quality recording of Mass last weekend at Lourdes, so parishioners could feel connected to their faith in a time of need. Faith and reason were on display – working together. Faith and reason have also been on display by those Church leaders who have called us to not forget the poor and marginalized, who are always disproportionately affected in these times. Additionally, bishops who suspended public Masses did so because it was the right thing to do – as hard as it was. I sent my thoughts to Archbishop Hebda and said that the Catholic Church can expect from governmental authority the freedom to live and practice our faith and governmental authority can rightly expect religious institutions to not transgress the public good. This duty flows from Catholic social teaching and its promotion of the common good.

Lastly, to the topic of reason in response to the pandemic. Animals have instinct and can respond to harm accordingly. But humanity – set apart as the crown of creation – benefits from the light of reason and as such participates in the divine mind of God. The great work of scientists, health care workers, and doctors evidence this as they put to healing ends, their God-given reason. The reason of experts has led to many important guidelines during this time of crisis: test broadly; shelter in place orders and social distancing; share critical information across countries; social and financial outreach to those who are struggling; and the need for strong and prudent leadership of decisionmakers. I will take up that last one another day.

What saddens and confounds me are those citizens, and yes priests too, who are thwarting common sense and reason-based guidelines that will help flatten the curve of the virus and save lives. I ask myself, why? Is it ignorance, selfishness, ideology, or clouded reason? Crowded beaches, conspiracy theories, and dinner parties in this time of crisis are not consistent with reason and our common good. Manifest your faith by praying to God to help those in need and manifest your reason by staying home.