HOW COVID-19 AFFECTED MY FAITH
(A Personal Essay)
Everybody in the world is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Either directly or indirectly, people have felt (and are still feeling) the effects. The directive of authorities to stay at home and to observe social distancing when going out may seem to be very simple orders. But they are not. The socio-economic impact of those directives is huge. And yes, they have psychological effects too.
Personally, I felt (and still feeling) the effects. Gatherings in all kinds of establishments are either limited to only a few people or none at all. Even places where people are known to congregate – like churches – are either closed or could operate but not to full capacity.
With churches either closed or could accept church-goers limitedly, spiritual growth has become one of the casualties of the coronavirus. For people pursuing a religious life, that’ a big deal.
My mother and my grandmother, both devout Catholics, taught me and my sibling the value of faith. I was a teacher for a total of 11 years in 2 Catholic colleges in the Philippines where faith, obviously, is an integral part of their culture. I don’t know if that made me a religious person. What I am sure of is this – it strengthened my faith in God.
My religious life, in one way or another, was affected by the ongoing pandemic. For a certain period of time that gatherings, especially in large groups, were not allowed in all kinds of institutions, including religious ones.
Consequently, the clergy decided to hold church services online. The faithful were asked to join. I did. It was different. I could not feel the solemnity of the ceremony. There were plenty of distractions. It was difficult to focus on worship.
Then came the time when government authorities allowed small group gatherings. After that, the church announced the resumption of the holding of masses.
Admittedly, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about attending face to face masses. Yes, I consider it essential to go to church not only to honor my spiritual obligations but also to listen to the words of God and commune with fellow-believers. But with COVID-19 perilously hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles, I consider it too risky to travel and to be with other people inside any place notwithstanding all the precautions being instituted to ensure the safety of everyone.
But there were Sunday nights, after not attending a mass, when I questioned myself. Did I choose not to go to church because of fear that I might get infected by the virus or am I using the virus as an excuse not to honor my spiritual obligation? Am I really afraid of the virus or is it a case of my desire to worship God waning? Has my faith got infected also by the coronavirus?
The COVID-19 seems to be deadlier than how it was projected by our scientists and epidemiologists. It does not only compromise our immune system but seemingly it could also weaken us psychologically. There are now known and recorded cases of emotional and mental breakdowns caused by the virus. And the worst – it could also penetrate our souls down to the very foundations of our faith. If I am not going to be aware of this, I may end up alive when this health crisis is over but my faith could be dead.
The ongoing pandemic is fiercely challenging the indomitability of the human spirit. It has put my spirituality to a test – a test that I should not fail. Overcoming the difficulties and challenges we are now facing require all form of toughness – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. I know that for me to survive I need to strongly believe in myself and more importantly in God. I have to keep the flames of my faith burning so I may have the light that will guide me as I walk the path darkened by the current challenges and hardships humanity is experiencing because of the COVID-19.
I noticed how the coronavirus is attacking the foundations of my spiritual life – how it is trying to erode my faith. How it effectively instilled in me the fear of getting infected thus I am either hesitant or afraid to venture outside of my home. Some may say this is totally understandable (and it should be what each of us really needs to do) because science is telling us how unpredictable this virus is. The church where I go maybe safe because of the precautions being undertaken by both the clergy and the lay helping them in managing the place of worship. But what about the distance that I have to cover to get to the church? The places I need to pass through, the buses I take (because I don’t have a private vehicle), and the people I meet along the way – am I safe from them (and them from me)? Is my face mask enough to protect me (and them)?
When I thought of all the foregoing, I had to ask myself – Am I not just trying to justify my failure to perform my spiritual obligation – my duty to worship Him in His holy house?
The Church is some kind of an umbilical cord that connects the faithful to God and the coronavirus is seemingly threatening to cut it. Shall I allow this to happen? There were times that as a believer I went to the extreme of thinking that COVID-19 is being used by the devil to create a wall between me and my God.
But one time, after hearing more horrible news about the coronavirus, I tried to re-examine my life. I was surprised with what I have noticed is happening to me. Somehow, this pandemic has also done something good to my spiritual life. Let me explain.
The coronavirus may have made me hesitant, if not afraid, to go to church but it pushed me to seek God more than the way I used to before the pandemic. I became more prayerful. I did not just pray more frequently but also the nature of my prayers changed. Before, I would only pray for myself and my family. But since the coronavirus started its reign of terror, I learned to pray for my friends as well, for my neighbors, and for my countrymen, and for all my fellowmen.
COVID-19 taught me not only to pray unselfishly but to become more cognizant of the pains and sufferings of my fellowmen – especially those who are infected by the virus and those whose livelihood suffered because of the measures government officials in all the countries affected by the pandemic had to implement in order to curb the spread of the virus.
The pandemic taught me to care. But the more I cared the more I felt helpless because I realized there is nothing I could do for them, for those who are suffering… except to pray. The only thing I could do for my friends, neighbors, countrymen, and my fellowmen is to implore God, to ask Him to forgive us for our sins – if it is our sinfulness that caused this contagion to come down upon us so fiercely and unrelenting. All I can do is to pray that may the good Lord embrace us once more with His infinite mercy and love and put an end to this ongoing health crisis.
I probably have never prayed any harder and I have never cared more for my fellow human beings the way that I do now. The more I prayed to God for everybody affected directly or indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic, the stronger my empathy towards my fellowmen grew. That while I may be thankful to God that all of my beloved ones are safe and healthy, my heart is bleeding because the virus continues to wreak havoc in different parts of the world infecting millions and killing thousands. That while I am thankful that I continue to be employed and have a steady source of income, I deeply sympathize with all my brothers and sisters in different parts of the world who lost their jobs or closed their businesses because of the ongoing pandemic.
How cruel and disheartening it is to see children getting orphaned, people going hungry and helpless, and dreams getting shattered. How painful it is to know that I could do nothing for them but to pray that may God put an end to all these miseries in the soonest possible time.
It took a pandemic for my spiritual life to take this very significant turn. Aside from learning to pray harder and to care for others, and to have empathy for other people it made me more introspective. I have never reflected on life the way that I have been doing it nowadays.
It seems that I have joined a retreat since the pandemic turned from bad to worst. I reflect on life. Seeing vibrant and healthy people suddenly succumbing to death has reminded me of how fragile life is. Only God knows when am I going to breathe my last. So, I have to live life to the fullest. I have to live it in a way He would see my faithfulness and allow all my hair to grow gray before I see my last sunset.
The other thing that the current pandemic made me take notice of are the things I have been taking for granted. I was never remiss of my duties as a father to my children, husband to my wife, and a son to my parents. I always send them the money they need. But I am not sure if I am making them feel loved. It was only during this pandemic that I took time to make a conscious effort to talk to them longer, to make them feel that I long for their presence. It has become easier for me now to say that I love them and that I care.
This is one of the great things that resulted from the coronavirus scare – families becoming closer. During the times that people couldn’t (and shouldn’t) go out, family members had a chance to talk to each other longer. And the best part is this – they also learned to pray together.
It reminded me of my mother who required me and my siblings when we were kids to be home for Angelus at 6:00 PM every day. After the Angelus, we would be praying the rosary. Faith in God is perhaps the best value my mother instilled in me.
When after a long time I decided to attend mass again, it was a wonderful experience. I felt a surge of enthusiasm when we started singing the hymns. I experienced rejuvenation as I hear the scriptures being read and the homily being delivered.
When the priest delivered his final blessings, I felt a different kind of joy that is hard to explain.
After all, we can choose to view the COVID-19 pandemic using a positive perspective. Some good things came out of it. Remember Romans 8:28, “We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose.”