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Mar 11, 2020

What Should Catholics Do and Say about the Coronavirus?

Dr. AnnaMaria Cardinalli

This morning, I had an interesting interaction over social media.  I forwarded this post from Padre Peregrino, in which a Pakistani court upheld the right of a Muslim man to hold in captivity a young Catholic girl he had kidnapped for the explicit purpose of sexual slavery.  The heroic girl remains without rescue and in desperate need of our prayers.

The post struck my heart with special violence.  Serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, I regularly encountered the tragedy and the consequences of the sale of children into the worst kinds of slavery—military and sexual servitude.  (Ask any post-9/11 veteran who worked outside the wire, and they will likely tell you the same, but they may not realize how much worse the situation can be for Christian children.)

Also this morning, I saw another post about a similar horror that we might easily consider an overseas concern. It was reported that an online pornography provider enormously popular in the U.S. had knowingly hosted videos of a 15-year-old kidnapping victim being brutalized in violent crimes, which subsequently resulted in an abortion forced by her captors. This case begins to expose the tip of the iceberg of the pornography industry, revealing that our insatiable appetite for online sites fuels the trafficking, exploitation, and killing of our own children.  

Memento Mori

A friend of mine, with quick intellect, surprisingly tied the whole sordid subject to the Coronavirus. It wasn’t the first association to come to my mind, but here’s what she quipped back to me:

“So, so, so horrible. A million times worse than the Coronavirus, and yet, COVID-19 gets the headlines. This moral disease causes eternal death, and the average man is more afraid of a virus.”

Not often do truer words flash across my phone screen. So, as the world reacts to the Coronavirus, what sort of perspective should our reaction, as Catholics, model for those around us? Based on my friend’s observation, it seems that we should ensure our concerns have primarily to do with eternal realities, and from that perspective take into account what must be done to protect lives here and now.

My mom has a great saying she shares whenever I’m preoccupied over some outcome and not trusting in God’s good providence as much as I should. She says, “It’ll be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” In a way, reminders like the Coronavirus can help us keep our eyes on the end.

The Coronavirus is rarely deadly, yet people are deathly afraid of it, perhaps because the attention surrounding a novel disease reminds them of the real inevitability of their own end. When reminded of that inevitability, we can take one of two routes. We can embrace it and ensure our readiness, or we can deny it and try to guarantee our survival.  

How Should Catholics Respond?

The second option is not only futile in the end, but it leads to cruel and destructive selfishness. It’s this option that sees us buying up hand sanitizer and face masks and toilet paper at prices that greedily keep these necessities from others. (Price gougers were selling Purell for $348 on Amazon this week, and it is unavailable at my local drugstore.)

Ironically, it’s the temporal perspective—the one that says life here is what matters most—that enables us to take actions that potentially deprive others of their lives here. Does that mean that to model a Catholic perspective focused on eternal outcomes we must jeopardize our lives and families by failing to adequately address our own temporal needs? Of course not. We are called to prudence.

I’m reminded of the helicopter joke—the one where a man drowns in a flood and, at the pearly gates, asks God why he didn’t save him. God answers, “I tried! I sent you the National Guard in a helicopter, but you waved them away saying ‘God will save me!’”

Clearly, we must do the things and accept the help that makes us reasonably prepared. I am no medical professional, so I wouldn’t dare suggest what those things are. However, it is up to us to research and understand the virus from truthful sources and take responsible action.

Still, those concerns can not outweigh the even more pressing ones. If there is a disease that frightens us enough that we take some action to prevent our own deaths from it, then it should first frighten us right into the confessional. We should be even more anxious to make sure that we and our families are in a state of grace than we are to make sure they have enough toilet paper and orange juice for a quarantine.

The Vulnerable

The fact is, we do not know enough about the new Coronavirus to understand what its ultimate effects might be. Right now, we do know that much like the flu, it tends to take its fatalities from the weaker members of our population. Before that causes us relatively strong and healthy people to breathe a sigh of relief, let’s keep in mind that those who are most vulnerable are the very people in whom we are especially called to see Christ.  

So, it seems that a Catholic response would, in addition to reflecting an eternal perspective by seeking to ready our souls while responsibly protecting life here, take special effort to defend the weakest among us.  This, however, brings us back to the concerns that woke me up this morning. If we are moved to protect the weakest among us from a disease—albeit one that has claimed thousands of lives—how much more are we motivated to protect our most vulnerable from the moral evils that have claimed so many more?  

Why does the Coronavirus spur us to action, and other sufferings fail to do so? That question might be a good place to start an examination of conscience. know it has been for me.  Here are some numbers:

Every year, 300,000 children are sold into human trafficking. 17,000 of those children are in the United States alone. These children lose their lives in a very real sense—one many times worse than death. Abortion takes the lives of around 125,000 people a day. In contrast, at the time of this post, the Coronavirus has taken the lives of just over 4,000 people.  

If we are going to panic over the possibility of a terrible virus claiming lives, let’s panic over these greater ills of pandemic proportions first.  Let’s do what’s necessary to protect ourselves and our communities from the Coronavirus, but let’s be shocked by these other “viruses” to the point of response as well.  Please pray for me as I try to better awaken my heart to these things this Lent.


You May Also Like:

Why Men Are Also Responsible for Abortion [Bobby Angel]

Why We Say ‘Memento Mori’

Highlights from a Pilgrimage to Rome


AnnaMaria Cardinalli enjoys sailing, knitting, and archery, and is truly terrible at one of these. She sees beauty as a means for evangelization and has performed in the world’s great musical venues. These range from Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall, to the really important ones, like singing on EWTN or teaching Panis Angelicus to the first communicants she prepares with her mom, Giovanna, at their local parish. She bleeds blue and gold. Her Ph.D. in theology is from Notre Dame, and she’s a service-disabled Navy veteran and former FBI employee. She’s proud of her work in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly that which exposed human rights violations against children, and she remains dedicated to the protection of God’s littlest ones.


Featured photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels

This article was updated March 13, 2020


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  • This is the irresponsible rhetoric that Vice President Pence is talking about. Since you admit to not being a medical expert, can you share the sources you used to form this opinion? Seems like you’re parroting political talking points, not medical. Comparing crimes to a pandemic is a massive false equivalence.

    • Hi Paul! If Vice President Pence is encouraging people to go to confession and ensure they’re in a state of grace, then seek to responsibly protect themselves and the vulnerable around them with an eye toward the eternal truths of the Catholic Faith, then awesome! I don’t follow politics much, probably because I don’t know any political leaders who say such things.

      And you’re right, there’s no comparison between the crimes that are endemic in our society and a pandemic virus. My friend’s observation is dead on. One sickens and kills the body, the other the soul. The difference in the degree of consequence is inexpressible.

  • The article is right on. The facility I work at will closed down and leave over 1500 workers and 1000 contractors without work. I was closed to finding a new position but the virus may prevent that. My wife is a kidney transplant survivor and she is especially vulnerable if the virus reaches us.
    I figured God has me in a good place because I now find myself in daily mass and regular confession as a pray for my family, friends, myself, and the whole world.
    Know Him, love Him, and Serve Him. Give Him all the worship and glory and stay close to Him through confession, communion, and prayers.

    • Hi Michael! Just wanted to say that your example inspires me. You and your family have a special place in my prayers since I read your comment–though I’m sure your prayers are already worth much more than mine. Thank you for your heroic steadfastness. It reminds us all of what’s important.

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