It is surprising how many decisions we make in a day. Some are very small and inconsequential. Others are much more difficult. The situations may be complex. The information, not entirely clear. The possible consequences are more grave. And at times, with all the good will in the world, we just don’t know the right thing to do.
As we face this next stage of the pandemic that we as a world are trying to navigate together, there are principles that we can apply in making the numerous necessary decisions: Do I wear a mask? Do I travel? Do I visit relatives? Do I get a vaccination? These are just a few that come readily to mind.
To emerge from this crisis a better world than we had before 2020, we need to really reflect on the word together and the word love. We must come through this crisis together. Create a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all.
Here are three main principles of Catholic teaching that you can use in making these important decisions:
First Principle: The dignity of the human person
A Christian response to the pandemic is rooted in charity. We’ve all heard the stories of individuals buying their way to the front of the line for the vaccine or companies and politicians seeking to profit from the pandemic.
Christian love is an embodiment in the here-and-now of God’s divine way of loving, of his willingness to send his Son to become man for the sake of those he loved with an unconditional and tender care. Christ loved us while we were sinners. The pandemic challenges us to switch from arranging things to get what is best for ourselves to giving what is needed to benefit others, even before ourselves, even at our personal cost.
“Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Benedict XVI, Homily for the beginning of the Petrine ministry, 24 April 2005). When we see each person with the gaze of faith, we see each one as a brother or sister, as a gift given us from the Father. This attentiveness leads to wonder, respect, and care that is offered freely and willingly in such a way that those who are the weakest are prioritized.
“There is an enormous range of needs and duties that we must catch a glimpse of, that we must place before our eyes, if we wish to be ‘in solidarity with Christ.’ Because, when all is said and done, that is just what it amounts to: ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25::40). Christ is on man’s side; and he is on the side of both parties; on the side of the one who is waiting for solicitude, service and charity; and on the side of the one who renders service, bears solicitude, shows love” (John Paul II, homily on November 26,1978).
Second Principle: The common good
The choice to take the vaccine is a choice each of us needs to make for ourselves, but we can’t make it for our own sake alone. We don’t live within a vacuum. The wounds inflicted by the coronavirus crisis will only be healed if we put the common good first.
“Practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good”(Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, no. 5).
The coronavirus is showing us that each person’s true good is a common good, not only individual. Similarly, the common good is a true good for the person (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1905-1906). “Health, in addition to being an individual good, is also a public good. A healthy society is one that takes care of everyone’s health” (Pope Francis, September 9, 2020).
God has created us out of love as people capable of loving as he has loved us. We have the unique dignity of living in communion with him and in communion with our brothers and sisters.
The saints who at the cost of their own lives ministered to the sick and the dying during plagues and pandemics in previous centuries are rightly admired. The light they emanate has made a mark on entire periods of the world’s history.
No less impressive are those who in these past months gave up their opportunity for a ventilator so that it could be given to another.
The heroic doctors and nurses and other first responders who even today still remain at their post to save lives and serve the rest of us are modern-day icons of divine Charity.
Though the choice about vaccination may seem small in relation to these giants of the human community, it is no less heroic. Whatever decision we make regarding vaccination needs to include how we will keep others safe. It is a choice of holiness.
“In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.” (ibid.)
Third Principle The preferential option for the poor
The pandemic has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. Pope Francis has called this social injustice an even greater “virus” than Covid-19.
In situations of desperation, in times of uncertainty and fear, individuals and nations may be tempted to make sure they provide for themselves first. Frightened hearts seek to create conditions for their own security. It is the fallen condition. The Christian call to love like God, however, calls us to a preferential option for the poor.
Pope Francis said, “It would be sad if, for the vaccine for Covid-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all. And what a scandal it would be if all the economic assistance we are observing—most of it with public money—were to focus on rescuing those industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation (LS 158)” (August 19, 2020).
The world itself needs profound physical, social and spiritual healing in order for governments and organizations, businesses and groups, to reverse their priorities in who and what they see as most important. So much conversion is needed before it will become second nature for whole societies to come together to share what they have with those who are most in need.
As Christians acting from love, however, we can creatively enact change. We can act with power upon the culture, through our individual actions to live in love and put before us in line, so to speak, the poor and the most in need of care.
So with our gaze fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and with the certainty that his love is operative through the community of his disciples, let us act all together, in order to create a new and better world where love is the foundation and the hope of all.
Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP