by Fr. Mark Miller, C.PP.S.
“We are all in this together.” We hear a lot of this these days on our television sets, but is it really true? From listening to the news and seeing what is happening around our country, this truism doesn’t seem to be hitting home with many. With the recent demonstrations, it doesn’t appear that everyone wants to “be in this together” and some want to go their own way and take their chances: “Give me liberty or give me Covid-19.”
There has always been tension between finding the balance between individual rights and the common good. When does the local or national government have the right to restrict private rights to protect the common good? When do local governments have the right to put a curfew on young people in certain places in the city? When does our national government have a right to restrict the usage of energy—as it did back in the 1970s? On what basis does a national government decide when public transportation is no longer available—as in 2001? And now, what gives the local and national governments the right to say who can go to work and who is to stay at home? What does “essential” work include and who decides that?
In the Book of Acts 2:44-47 we read how the early Church shared their things in common and made sure that everyone’s need was satisfied. How do we interpret this in terms of the relationship between individual rights and the common good? Is this to be applied only to local communities or is it also applicable to nations and the world? In Pope Francis’ Gaudium et Spes we read: “Citizens must cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without being narrow-minded. This means that they will always direct their attention to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people, and nations.” This statement certainly implies a much broader outreach than simply the local community.
There are a variety of reasons why people are disgruntled these days. For some, it is simply one more ploy of the government to institute a socialistic approach in our lives. These folks want the government out of everything, except when it comes to what they believe the government owes them. Others believe that the government is “overstepping” their authority in responding to this virus and imposing the “stay at home” orders. But like the song of the 1960s asked, “How many deaths will it take before too many have died?” To restrict the movements of people and the proximity of people to one another as a precaution of reducing death seems to be a rational response to a worldwide epidemic. There is always a question of “how long” does this last? Here is where we need to turn to the scientists and medical professionals to assess the danger of removing this restriction too soon.
The last group that wishes the restrictions would end are those who are at the “end of their rope” in terms of trying to put food on the table, pay their bills, and keep what little possessions they have left. This concern must also be part of the “common good.” How does a community reach out to those in such a way that they are able to continue to sustain their family life? In the Letter to the Romans, Paul says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another, do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are” (12:15-16). Perhaps we are given the opportunity to truly be “neighbor” to one another these days by acknowledging that in charity and justice we are called to reach out to one another. Perhaps, this is what “ecclesia” really means; perhaps this is what it means to be “church.”
Like a recent cartoon I just saw: the devil is relishing the fact that he has closed every big Church in the country and Jesus is relishing the fact that he has opened a church in every household. Let us learn to be Church wherever we find ourselves.