John Paul II’s Guide to Prudence During a Pandemic

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With Coronavirus, or COVID-19, dominating news cycles, social media, and interpersonal conversations, one would be hard pressed to not have at least an awareness that it is disrupting the day-to-day lives of increasingly more people here in the U.S., even as we hear about how the virus and caution is sweeping across the globe.

With this awareness and the ever-presence of the virus in daily headlines, there comes a myriad of opinions, conspiracy theories, questions, concerns, and even panic. Reactions to the creeping quarantines, the cancelations of public events, schools closing, and shelves going bare as people stockpile supplies, range from exasperation to desperation, and one question seems to beg to be answered: for people of faith, what is a prudent response in the face of a pandemic?

With this awareness and the ever-presence of the virus in daily headlines, there comes a myriad of opinions, conspiracy theories, questions, concerns, and even panic.
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Love drives out fear

Scripture reminds us that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). In the order of virtues, the theological virtue of Charity is the greatest (1 Cor. 13:13). Prudence is also a virtue, and it is one of the cardinal virtues. In the face of a pandemic, or any crisis, we are still called to be virtuous and called to christian charity. Practically speaking, this means that we are to consider the good of “the other.”

Love,” according to Pope St. John Paul II, “consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom – it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another.”

Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility

That statement sums up what a prudent approach to COVID-19 looks like. It looks like, for the sake of love, being inconvenienced. For the sake of love, sharing what you have. For the sake of love, not hoarding toilet paper or canned goods. For the sake of love, limiting contact with large groups of people, and particularly the elderly. For the sake of love, putting aside one’s pride and accepting that people are scared and nervous—whether or not you think they should be. Love doesn’t boast, and it is not proud, as St. Paul tells us. It is patient and kind.

For the sake of love, putting aside one’s pride and accepting that people are scared and nervous—whether or not you think they should be.
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What love looks like

Love also deals squarely in reality. It is pride that blinds, it is fear that paralyzes. Neither pride nor fear deserve to have a place in the discussions surrounding how to best approach the coronavirus in America. The reality is that at present it is causing disruptions to life and panic, and it threatens to overburden hospitals and medical systems. Whether or not there is additional hype coming from the media, whether or not this virus shows itself to be worse than or milder than the flu is not the issue that we as the Body of Christ need to be discussing. What we should be pondering, praying about, and talking about is how we love through this—whatever “this” is.

What charity looks like is going to be individual and varied. This is where the virtue of Prudence is needed. Prudence can help us discern how to love in the midst of COVID-19. A charitable, prudent action for one person may not be prudent for another. That is why we, as Christians, have a responsibility to rightly form our consciences, to maintain and build a prayer life, and to frequent the sacraments. In doing so we make virtue a habit, which helps us to know how to rightly act when the time comes. The difficulty lies in that all too often we tend to judge others for what we decide are imprudent or even foolish actions instead of taking time to be concerned about our own life of virtue and what we are called to do or not do instead.

Prudent charity

Prudence may dictate that out of love for her family, a mother hunkers down with her kids for a few weeks and severely limits outside contact. Surely this would be an inconvenience! Perhaps she does this not because she is afraid that her children will get sick, but because she knows they cannot help but spread germs to others, and she doesn’t want to risk spreading illness to someone who may not be able to recover. Prudence may also dictate that the father of this family go out every day to work, because he is a physician. His work may require of him heroic actions, and charity may be demand that he place himself at risk.

Charity and prudence should lead all of us to heroic actions, and most of those heroic actions will be done in relative obscurity. This heroism may look like sharing canned goods with a neighbor, or arranging for grocery drop off for an elderly family member so they can stay home. Prudent charity may look like a nurse tending to contagious patients even though her hospital has no more face-masks and they are full to overflowing. It may look like a priest processing around his parish or town with the Eucharist so the faithful can worship the Eucharist, even as churches are closed.

It may look like a Bishop encouraging his flock to not be afraid and encouraging his priests to take what actions they deem necessary to care for the physical and temporal welfare of their congregations. It may look like out of the box approaches to bringing the sacraments to the people, if the people cannot come to the sacraments.

Be the saints of this time

Throughout history the Church has faced pestilence, plague, war, famine, crisis, and panic. Each time her faithful rally to put into action the heroic virtue to which we are all called. Each century has seen its saints rise up and its own solutions to the problems of the day. With charity and prudence, with the advice of Pope St. John Paul II, we are called to be the saints of this day, and this time. May we look back on this COVID-19 outbreak as a catalyst for holiness, and an opportunity to love.

Featured image: Pixabay. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

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