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Pete Sheehan Catholic News Service
This column is from the April 3 issue of The Catholic Exponent, newspaper of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. It was written by Pete Sheehan, editor/general manager.
The other day, I was walking our dog, Xena — who would be worth a column all to herself — when I noticed that one of neighbors had her front lawn all decorated for Easter. This neighbor is known for having her front lawn all decked out for every holiday — Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, you name it. Often, they are lit up at night, which is a sight I look forward to on my walks with Xena.
Still, there was something incongruous about the decorations. Not that they were early, even though we’re not yet at Palm Sunday. I really don’t mind that the decorations were all bunnies and chicks. Let’s face it. Easter is a difficult season to decorate for if you want to focus on “The Reason for the Season.”
The incongruity that struck me was the cheeriness of it all in the midst of a pandemic. I say this with no criticism but only gratitude for someone who makes the effort in a time that wouldn’t necessarily invoke cheeriness.
The incongruity however remains.
The nightly news tells it all — a conservative estimate of 200,000 eventual deaths from the coronavirus in the United States, threats of shortages of medical supplies and overcrowded hospitals, rising unemployment with layoffs and business closings, and disruptions of religious services, school schedules, weddings and other events.
Last time, I wrote about finding meaning in the pandemic in light of Lent, a penitential time, but Easter seems ill-suited.
Yet, I find perspective in the fact that this is the world that Jesus came to live in — the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Disease was prevalent at the time of Christ — before and, sadly, even after the time of Christ.
We hear a lot about “flattening the curve” regarding the coronavirus, using social distancing and stay-at-home orders to slow the rate of infection both to reduce casualties and to allow the health care system to more gradually absorb those who need care.
Let’s face it. “Flattening the curve” is a metaphor for the human condition. We are all prone to injuries, illness, accidents and other unfortunate situations. We can’t alter that basic reality. Through advances in medicine, protective health measures, social reforms, and humans generally acting less recklessly and maliciously, we in effect flatten the curve — reduce the number and seriousness of unfortunate occurrences and increase the time between them so that the vast majority of us can enjoy a happier life and society. That, of course, is the only sensible approach even though we know that, despite our best efforts, everyone eventually dies — even if they do so after more happy and healthy years.
Jesus came into the world so that we might have life and have it to the fullest and He went about preaching and healing as signs of what was to come. He didn’t heal all the world’s illnesses or raise all who were dying. His healing was a sign that there was something more –a kingdom not of this world, though while in this world, we are commissioned to create our own signs by helping foster life, a life to the fullest.
Perhaps nothing speaks of the worst of the human condition more than war — when death is not only part of the story but the dominant theme, death that is not the unavoidable circumstances but the deliberately intended outcome.
One of my favorite stories involves Christmas Eve in 1914, in the thick of World War I. British, French and German forces hunkered down on their respective sides during a lull in the fighting — undoubtedly frightened about what might come next. Suddenly, soldiers on one side heard singing of a Christmas carol from the ranks of their foes. Nervously, some of the soldiers on the other side joined in, and eventually there was widespread singing of Christmas carols, and eventually exchanges of gifts and an impromptu soccer game.
If warring factions during a World War I battle can find a way to come together and celebrate Christmas, I think that all of us today, despite the shadow of COVID-19, can focus on the message of Jesus and his resurrection — that death, though inevitable, does not win.
So let us find a way to celebrate Easter — in the deeper meaning of the resurrection as well as in the cheeriness of the bunnies and the chicks — even if we have to do it from six feet apart.