A few weeks ago, a global organization called for millions of people all over the world to change their daily lives for the greater good. I’m not actually talking about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement on coronavirus — I’m referring to the Vatican and Lent.
As with countless other things recently, Lent has fallen into the background because of the coronavirus. Churches in New York have already been closed since March 14. The Vatican has announced that in most locations, Easter celebrations are canceled. Regardless of your faith, odds are that at least one of your major rituals — whether it be watching professional sports, attending concerts or simply visiting an elderly relative over the weekend — has no short-term future.
There was a time when things weren’t like this. While it may feel like a lifetime ago, I still remember Ash Wednesday. Though Ash Wednesday is an annual commitment for many, this year was the first that I actually made the decision to observe it and take part in the ritual myself. My Jesuit academic adviser and his faith have long piqued my interest, and he was giving the evening service, which persuaded me to check it out.
Commuting to Lincoln Center in order to attend my 8:30 a.m. class, I remember being surprised to pass by several people who had already received their ashes. It was equally unexpected to see people that I actually knew at the 6 p.m. service in the 2nd-floor chapel. That day served as a stark reminder to me that the strangers seen in the city streets share more in common with us than we would like to think.
Sadly, those interpersonal connections are some of the many victims of coronavirus.
Whether it be the loss of a pet hamster, a romantic breakup, the passing of a loved one or some other unfortunate event, all of us have felt loss before. However, all those incidents are merely parts of the whole; they show reflections of the suffering that comes with the human condition, but not the image itself, through which that suffering is connected.
Ironically, the social isolation that we must all go through reminds us of the obligation that all human beings share: concern for the state of our neighbor and the common good. Though the comforting traditions that Catholics are used to have been lost, the universal qualities of hardship and community that come with this time of year are stronger than ever.
While we share the burden of social isolation, that burden is harsher on some more than others. As a New York City native, I have the privilege of not having to worry about spreading the virus to my community, or being unable to return to my home country; I do not have to live with an abusive family or worry about meeting my basic needs. However, we must not let the omnipresent nature of the coronavirus let us forget the lives we had just a few weeks ago.
Instead, this time should be used for the self-reflection that Lent demands. Although there are privileges that are limited to some of us, many are applicable to all Fordham students. Not only were we college students, which is a rare honor in any circumstance, but college students in New York City, at Fordham. Regardless of where we currently reside, the personal developments made over our college experience, the academic accomplishments that will guide us to the next professional chapter in our lives, the friendships we made and continue to maintain online, have not vanished. So quick we are to see the dust of the beginning and the end, the blessings received in the middle go ignored.
A popular saying among several family members of mine is “When man makes plan, God laughs.” While this can be used to prepare for and accept the worst, it is also a reminder that there is no such thing as finality in this world until the dust returns, as Jesus demonstrated all those years ago. When the time comes for us to leave our own caves, may we all be able to laugh together.