Fratelli Tutti - Pandemics and Other Calamities in History

This past weekend I was talking to somebody after Mass. The topic was the increase of Covid cases in the United States and around the world. We were musing about the fact that new restrictions seem to be imminent. Amid the conversation, he said, “Yes, my wife and I are starting to restock the pantry again.“

I thought “Oh brother here we go again!” I mentioned we were through this once before. They’re producing plenty of toilet paper. There’s going to be plenty of food on the shelves. The U.S. infrastructure showed itself resilient and effective. Worries about shortages of everything were unfounded. I think the media overplayed the situation. They took a serious situation and prayed upon peoples’ fears. It was about eyeballs and advertising clicks. It worked. People panicked.

The pandemic earlier this year did show certain areas where there was poor planning. The medical industry has been warning the United States about pandemics for years. We have had other medical emergencies in the past. We have experienced other flu epidemics. Each time, the medical community would appeal to politicians (both sides of the aisle) and industry. They said that we were not prepared. They warned that stockpiles of supplies, equipment, and medicine were inadequate. They made recommendations about what was needed to prepare for the big one.

They were correct.

People of power and influence never developed a good plan. We know of the consequences. Pope Francis talks about this in Chapter 1 of Fratelli Tutti. He writes about this specifically in the section entitled “Pandemics and Other Calamities in History.“

The storm exposed our vulnerabilities. It uncovered failures and uncertainties around which we constructed our daily schedules, projects, habits, and priorities. With this storm, the façade has fallen away, revealing the blessed awareness that we are part of one another.
With magnificent poetry, the Pope goes further.

We fed ourselves splendor and ended up consuming distraction, insularity, and solitude. We gorged ourselves on networking and lost a taste for eternity. We looked for quick and safe results. We only found ourselves overwhelmed by impatience and anxiety. We became prisoners of a virtual reality yet we lost the taste of the truly real.

Pope Francis closes the paragraph with an important sentence. “The pandemic has made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organizations of our society, and the meaning of our existence.”

Studies have been done looking into the causes of suicide. Overwhelmingly a major cause is a lack of purpose in the person’s life. Here is where the Church and the People of God play a role. We are all about purpose. What’s yours? Pope Francis “S.J.” is encouraging us to begin to do some good old fashion Ignatian self-reflection. The Holy Father provides a good checklist for an “examin.” Take his list to prayer. Begin to consider what areas in your life have become false gods. What are the areas of my life that need conversion and reconciliation and redemption? One place to start - what are the areas of your life where you are experiencing the most fear.


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