In this age of the COVID.19 we are told to keep apart, to isolate ourselves from one another. Every stranger, and even friend, is seen as a possible threat to one’s life, and I to him or her. Safety is found only in keeping apart. But how can we live in isolation? We need proximity and touch, hugs and kisses, to be really alive. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo shows God’s finger touching Adam into life. We are all the hands of the life-giving God when we touch others with kindness and respect. Touch is the nourishment of our humanity. Grandparents and grandchildren who cannot hug each other are living a deep deprivation! I am deeply grateful, as never before, for living in a community, so that even in this terrible time, I can leave my room and find my brothers. I live in a beautiful city filled with parks in which I can walk and see the signs of spring. I have no reason to complain. But millions of people are deprived of the physical closeness that we need to flourish. Suddenly, when I must not touch, then I turn to people whom I have not seen for years. Yes, there is isolation, but also a new and wide communion of those who care. Of course it is not the same. I miss the faces of those whom I love. Faces are best seen in side-glances, unexpected glimpses, caught unawares when one enters a room. We do not stare at the faces of those whom we love, as we focus relentlessly at the screen when we Skype or Zoom. When we are physically together, we look at each other gently, discreetly, from every angle.
We continue to celebrate the Eucharist kept at a distance from one another. Many Catholics have been fasting from the shared intimacy of the Body of Christ during this pandemic. This is but one of the ways we have kept our distance from Christ as well as from one another. Of course, pastoral work and the hearing of confessions continues, but even here we have kept our distance form one another. Keeping our distance. A fine preacher I know said to me: “The joy of preaching comes from faces. Most of the joy of preaching comes from the faces, the smiles and the laughter, of the people I am addressing.” St Augustine says that we should teach with Hilaritas, exuberance and even ecstasy. It is intensely mutual. When the occasion is blessed, the preacher and the people inspire each other. A fifteenth century Sufi imam, Mullah Nasrudin, said: “I talk all day, but when I see someone’s eyes blaze, then I write it down.”
This is a time of deprivation for us all. All that we lose in this time of plague will, we hope and trust, be recovered before too long. The coronavirus will pass. But has there been anything good from this contagion? Is there something in the air that may be contagious for the good? Let us hope that we shall discover that just as the virus reaches beyond national boundaries and does not need visas, so we shall renew our sense that we belong to a single human community from which no exit is possible.
Let us continue to pray for an end to the virus, and continue to love one another.
With hugs but no kisses.
Fr. David McBriar, O.F.M