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A Lenten response to COVID-19

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Now it's hold-your-breath time. Will all we are doing to isolate ourselves, even canceling public celebrations of the Mass, be enough to flatten out the "community spread" of this disease?

Effie
Caldarola

After visiting Philadelphia's spring flower show, my daughter and her five-year-old were returning home on the commuter train. Awareness of the new coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. was just seeping into the news, and my daughter thought she saw her child put her hands up to her face.

"Charlotte, don't put your hands in your mouth," my daughter said, aware of the germ-factory public transit is even in normal times.

"I'm not," Charlotte replied indignantly. "I'm putting them in my nose."

Then, we laughed. But oh, how a few weeks can challenge our sense of humor.

Now it's hold-your-breath time. Will all we are doing to isolate ourselves, even canceling public celebrations of the Mass, be enough to flatten out the "community spread" of this disease?

Our federal government initially failed us. Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of global health and director of Harvard Global Health Institute, told National Public Radio on March 12 that the U.S. response to COVID-19 has been a "fiasco."

South Korea was testing almost as many per day as we had tested in the first few weeks.

"Our response is much, much worse than almost any other country that's been affected," Jha said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "The idea of anybody getting it (a test) easily -- the way people in other countries are doing it -- we're not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we're not."

Hopefully, the testing situation is changing now. And history will be asked to evaluate our country's response.

On a brighter note, our local government leaders, here in Omaha and Nebraska at least, seem to be stepping up to the challenge with speed and transparency.

Meanwhile, we're in the middle of the penitential season of Lent, and I think it's important to draw the two -- the pandemic, our faith -- together. We have, after all, a history of our own response to write.

This is one of those moments -- Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 9/11 -- that people will be talking about for the rest of their lives. Will any of us ever forget where we were mid-March, and the events we saw unfold?

Maybe you're trying to work from home with your kids out of school. Maybe your job in the service industry is threatened. Maybe you're leaving a college campus midterm. Social lives imploding, trips canceled (I was supposed to leave for Greece on March 17), the economy threatened, sports and other activities impacted.

So we try to adapt Lent to this new reality. I pray to understand how I am being called to respond. I can feel OK about this hunkering down, until that moment of panic when I wonder just how long I will be asked to hunker.

The best advice I saw was on Twitter: Use this time to flex your contemplative muscles. Odd terms to use in relation to contemplation, perhaps, yet we need discipline and strength to turn our minds to God in these moments.

Contact friends daily. Laugh and cultivate that sense of humor. Touch base with those who live alone. Read. Ration news and social media. Keep a journal of these days for posterity. Take long walks. Make Lent sacrificial -- resist lapsing into bad habits under stress.

And pray for those who are suffering from this disease worldwide, across all borders. Pray for the first responders and medical personnel who are putting their lives on the line in this fight.

Like all our lives, this, too, will pass. So let's make this a Lent for the history books.

- Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.



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