Coronavirus Diary

March 31, 2020

Pittsburgh, PA

Jim McCarville, VP APP

I have a Zoom meeting later this evening on “How to be Church in the Time of Coronavirus?”

The first question is going to be “How do I feel?” I feel lost, scared, searching and sure.

I am lost as we enter uncharted territory.

I am scared because our government says that 100,000 to 200,000 people in the US will die from this virus, and that is only if we do everything right. I know we are doing a lot of things right. Just not everything. And I know many other countries lack the resources we have. Will millions die?

In the coming months, people we know will die -- many alone. Many more will grieve alone. How will we be able to help each other grieve?

I am scared because unless this is brought under control everywhere, it will continue to pop up until we have a cure -- at best they say 12-18 months away – or until it burns through enough people to develop a “herd immunity” at such a very great cost.

I am scared because the virus effects will be unequal. It will fall heavily on the homeless, the poor, prisoners, displaced refugees, lower wage earners, cleaners, garbage collectors, grocery workers, transport and utility workers and medical professionals. Like the miners at Chernobyl, we have already asked each of these to go into battle for us -- unprotected. What might we do if any one of those groups lose faith that society has their best concern at heart? What if they rebel -- or just quit?

I am searching because I believe our faith provides us answers. Maybe not a cure for the virus, but answers that let us live with its consequences. David Brooks, who is not Catholic, put it well when he said that as long as we feel we are all going through this together, we will get through it. But if we start making selfish decisions, it will be a catastrophe. Se wrote:

Social solidarity is tenacious. It’s an active commitment to the common good — the kind of thing needed in times like now.

This concept of solidarity grows out of Catholic social teaching. It starts with a belief in the infinite dignity of each human person but sees people embedded in webs of mutual obligation — to one another and to all creation. It celebrates the individual and the whole together, and to the nth degree.

Solidarity is not a feeling; it’s an active virtue. It is out of solidarity, and not normal utilitarian logic, that George Marshall in “Saving Private Ryan” endangered a dozen lives to save just one. It’s solidarity that causes a Marine to risk his life dragging the body of his dead comrade from battle to be returned home. It’s out of solidarity that health care workers stay on their feet amid terror and fatigue. Some things you do not for yourself or another but for the common whole.

It will require a tenacious solidarity from all of us to endure the months ahead. We’ll be stir-crazy, bored, desperate for normal human contact. But we’ll have to stay home for the common good. It’s an odd kind of heroism that this crisis calls for. Those also serve who endure and wait.

I wonder if there will be an enduring shift in consciousness after all this. All those tribal us-them stories don’t seem quite as germane right now. The most relevant unit of society at the moment is the entire human family.

Along with solidarity, there are other principles of Catholic Social Doctrine (CSD) we should contemplate.

“Subsidiarity” says that problems should be solved at the lowest level at which they are practical to be solved at. That means us. We need to do this.

The “Common Good” says that while there is a right to private property, it is always subjected to a social mortgage of the Common Good. In the near future, we will be called many times to put our own good ahead of the common good. They will not be easy choices to make. How we will fare? How I will fare? Along with the principles, we will need courage.

Then there is the “Universal Destination of Goods,” that says God’s goods are destined for the benefit of all people, even all creation – not just the rich or privileged.

I am sure because I know that the thing I am doing now – staying at home, social distancing and self-care – is the most important thing I can be doing to support those in the front lines. It is the most important thing now, but in the near future it will not be enough. Yet the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, common good, and the universal destination of goods, provide me with a guide to find my way through this new uncharted territory.

Beginning now, how else can I learn to judiciously use my skills to better assist those in the front line? What can I ask of my neighbors for their needs? What must I accept from others for my needs? I know I must improve my prayer life. I must deepen my relationship with God. I must appreciate the sacrifice of my neighbors already in this fight. I must learn compassion for the sick, those remotely witnessing death from the virus and those suffering the consequences of confinement, including hunger and depression. Yet I must also learn to grow in terms of action, awareness, advocacy and much more.

What are the best practices I see now? What can I do about them?

What is not being done that I could do?

What more will be needed two months from now? Twelve months from now?

In the near future, the APP expects to email a questionnaire. We want to know who needs help, but also wants to help. Maybe you just need human contact. Maybe grocery shopping or driving to critical appointments. Or maybe you can be the one to shop, to make phone calls to shut-ins. Please consider what you need and what you can do. If you give us your name, email and phone number, we will assume we have permission to use it for the purpose of putting needs and helpers together. Watch our website, associationofpittsburghpriests.com for updates. And visit and subscribe to our Facebook page, Association of Pittsburgh Priests as well.

Now more than ever, we need each other!

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