The Vatican health clinic was closed temporarily after a person tested positive for the coronavirus,…
The coronavirus tragedy provides an opportunity for perspective
Years in the priesthood have left me with many memories, most of them inspiring and, in the end, filled with peace. A few have brought great stress of mind and called for great faith in the perfection of God’s will, and the need to act and think as Jesus acted and thought. Often questions have come about. Under given circumstances, what is God’s will? How would Jesus react to a certain situation?
Lying heavily on my mind, and in my heart, are predictions about the spread of the coronavirus, its viciousness, the absence of any cure and, in general, our helplessness.
In turn, this terrible combination of realties bluntly takes me to those uneasy memories of my priesthood about death and dying.
Precisely, what is obedience to Almighty God, and trust in the Lord, when doctors ask loved ones when, and if, to discontinue treatment and, in effect, leave a spouse, parent, child or someone else who is beloved to the inevitability of death? I will explain.
No Catholic priest educated in the last 50 years has not heard lectures about the morality of ending care in critical cases. The Church’s teaching is firm and unequivocal, straight off the tablets of the Ten Commandments presented by God to Moses.
“Thou shalt not kill.”
The meaning is crisp, exact and unqualified. Rarely, at least so far, generally, in this country does any physician advise allowing disease to run its deadly course without an attempt to reverse that course. The question most often is how far to go when nothing is working as wished. Many cases involve to some degree the judgment that no hope exists, but the assumption often is left that continuing therapy is a choice.
In these times of the coronavirus, hope may exist, but options do not. It will not be that treatment would fail and nothing can be done, but in many cases, infuriatingly, something would succeed if medical necessities were available.
Availability of such necessities already openly and chillingly is discussed. Every day health care experts state that supplies of what is needed for care are in short supply or do not exist.
To be painfully frank, I fear to think that in the coming days families will watch loved ones die, well aware that medicine otherwise could save them, or that just a few months ago they would have lived because required materials were at hand or in easy reach.
If this outcome arrives, God forbid, our national psyche not only will be burdened by grief, but by anger and bitterness as well, perhaps disdain for procedures that help in avoiding illness. Death comes to everyone, but we have become accustomed to the fact that we can prolong life, and indeed enhance health in life, by what we have learned about science and disease. We soon may feel tricked.
The coronavirus pandemic cruelly is teaching us that, after all we know, despite how amazingly smart that we think that we are, we cannot control nature.
Cold, direct, honest thinking leads to a view of the present, although it may produce distasteful and unwanted thoughts. Humans are weak. We need to learn. Science has not failed us utterly.
Survival indeed matters very, very much. Find a cure. Pass laws to protect people in all respects. This is foremost, not surprisingly. Naturally, escaping death is the paramount human instinct. Supernaturally, life is of God.
Life is not just resisting death. It is everyday living. Our hospitals and clinics are peopled by the smart, caring and generous. They call us to transfer these virtues to our own personal conduct, personal relationships and actions, and to international relations and national policies. Simply speaking, follow the Lord.
Finally, the ultimate, universal fact of life is that earthly existence ends, but Jesus put that in perspective. He taught us that death will overcome us, but that a glorious new life awaits us.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.