By Rev. Fr. Michael Chike Osamor
More than was usual, we your priests have had to do lots of explaining, catechesis, and argumentations in defense to the rather extreme stance of asking parishioners to, in the meantime, stay away from their houses of prayer. Some even accuse us, by the very fact of the decision, of having displayed the most laughable scale of cowardice, hypocrisy and faithlessness.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, we vehemently encouraged you to come to church regularly, to seek the face of God and stay close to him at all times; that in difficult and trying moments, God is the safest embrace to which we must run, for he is the mighty healer and to him, nothing is impossible. If these are truths of the facts of our faith, why then have we shut the Church doors against you – many ask.
Some even make a case against God himself, expressing how it is incompatible to conceive of a God who is, at the same time, most-loving, most-powerful, all-knowing and yet, permit the continued scourge of this pandemic snuffing life out of hundreds of thousands of his children at an exponential rate.
It is painful to admit that this ugly situation brought upon us by covid-19 would certainly have a negative impact on religion generally, on Christianity particularly, and on the Catholic faith more especially. Yet, we all need to come to terms with this hard reality that all of humanity, is under a severe threat and must respond appropriately.
It is true that the plague of this novel-corona virus has dealt everyone a heavy blow. Individuals, families, social systems, institutions, and governments have all been pushed to the brink of breaking. It is also incontrovertible that this is a scourge that took us all unawares. It is an extreme situation that has hand-twisted even the most sophisticated governments into making extreme, yet expedient choices, from a very thin range of available options.
Mankind is, at this time, confronted and forced to fight a war against an enemy, so tiny as would require microscopes to be seen, yet so mighty as would not be easily conquered with the sophisticated weapons at America’s and Europe’s disposal, talk less of Africa. The best healthcare systems in the world are yet overwhelmed by this novel virus. The best microbiologists and medical scientists are yet helpless. No vaccine is yet available as a therapy or prophylactic to save infected patients. The clinical trials carried out with chloroquine is yet to prove effective.
LIFE : The Rationale Behind the Hard Choice
Life is the first and greatest principle of all there is. It is the highest and most valued gift of God to man. Life is itself existence and the most fundamental criterion for every consideration. Life is sacred, noble and dignified and must, by every means necessary, be honored and preserved.
In the meantime, doctors and nurses describe the situation as a “battlefield” where they fight their brains and fingers out to salvage or ameliorate the situation yet the scale of casualties is overwhelming, yet you cannot see the enemy.
Families are wiped out, community population is depleting uncontrollably. Covid-19 is as novel (new) as it is lethal. The only measure yet helpful is the “social-distancing” which must be employed to stalling the further spread of the virus from even yet-to-be-identified infected persons that may have infiltrated our society.
It is important that we exercise the highest level of discretion and understanding possible.
Since, as St Irenaeus once noted, “the glory of God is man fully alive”, we must show God how thankful we are for the gift of life and be as highly precautionary as affordable and possible in safeguarding such an invaluable treasure. And far be it from our minds that this measure is indicative of lack of faith.
Let us not forget, when Herod posed a threat to his life as an infant, God himself, in his incarnate Son, fled to Egypt for safety (Matt 2:18-23). God’s instruction to Noah to build an Ark as refuge against the threatening doom of the flood (Gen 6-9), Joseph’s discretion to store up grains to palliate the imminent hunger that would result from the envisaged famine, are proofs that in perilous times such as this, God expects us to invoke our natural instinct for survival and common wisdom he has bequeathed us.
We should know that He is usually not in the habit of doing for us what he has given us the capacity to do for ourselves. When it was yet his appointed time to die, Jesus exercised this human instinct by escaping the crowd that threatened to kill him (Luke 4:30; John 10:39). More so, the word of God through the Prophet Isaiah (26:20) stands ultimately instructive at this time – “go my people, go into your private room, shut yourselves in. Hide yourselves a little while until the retribution has passed.”
Nevertheless, the suspension of public congregational masses never implied the suspension of masses altogether. It is crucial that you know that our constitution as a Church, the mystical body of Christ, was never determined nor dependent on our physical congregation.
Hence daily masses are still being relentlessly celebrated by your priests, by means of which the intentions of parishioners, the church and the world are constantly offered to God, calling down his graces and blessings for each and all.
Your Priests love you and deeply miss you. We greatly long for your return to the sweet community of faith and love that we have enjoyed prior to covid-19.
Hence we fervently entreat God, through the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to heal our world and quicken the phasing out of these times from our history.
As we recline into our rooms, we should become more trustful in God’s mercy and power, more fervent in prayers, bearing the mind the assurances of Psalm 23.
Please, do stay safe for us.
God Bless You!!!
Rev. Fr. Michael Chike Osamor is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku currently on secondment to the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos.