Wash Your Hands, Maintain Social Distance and Wear Masks: Holy Week during Pandemic Covid-19

Xavier Jeyaraj, SJES

Every year we have the season of Lent to reflect on the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent is a time set aside for prayer, penance and repentance. Generally, we reflect on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. However, this year we not only reflect on but are also living the Lenten season concretely.  The pandemic Covid19 has led us to live the desert experience of Jesus along with him, not just to ponder it in our minds.  We do this not simply through a few acts of penance, fasting, and alms giving from our abundance. Rather, we enter and participate, with empathy and compassion, in the real experience of suffering and dying of the victims and their families. A little more than 64,000 people, particularly our seniors, who began Lent are no more with us to celebrate the Easter. How many more will succumb, we wonder.

As we enter into this year’s Holy Week, here are three points for our reflection in the present context of the Corona Virus pandemic.

First, Wash Your Hands: Health experts tell us that we must wash our hands more frequently than we are accustomed to so that we may prevent the spread of the virus. Yes, we must and we do so with soap or sanitizer. However, this Holy Week calls us to a deeper purification than the external alone. It is our hearts and minds we need to purify. It is in our hearts and minds, that we cultivate fear, hatred, enmity, anger, jealousy against the other. It is in our hearts and minds that we see the ‘other as enemy’ and build imaginary or even real walls on the pretext of protecting ourselves and our nations. It is in our hearts and minds that we hide our inner motives and desires. It is here that we harbour the selfishness, which leads us to accumulate wealth for ourselves instead of sharing it with the needy; that we yield to the temptation to use our position and power to control others or to stay silent while the rights and dignity of the poor and the vulnerable are violated. As we wash our hands with soap these days, shall we also remind ourselves that we must wash our hearts and minds with the soap of prayer and the grace of God? Such washing is not a ritual washing but an honest and a sincere cleansing of all the negative thoughts and feelings we nurture. This purifying grace must flow into every corner of our hearts and minds, to expel all the filth that we have accumulated over the years, often subtly hidden deep within.

Second, Maintain Social Distance: We are told to maintain social distance to prevent the spread of the virus. Perhaps, ‘social’ is a misnomer. What is actually recommended is physical space or distance. This we do temporarily to avoid the virus spreading from one to another. As social beings, we need to remain closer to one another today than ever before. In fact, incorrectly advocating “social distance”, serve an important purpose. It serves to make us aware of and acknowledge the distance we have created between God’s amazing creation and ourselves. In fact, we realize how much we have used and abused creation. We have forgotten that we are just one among God’s many creations. Sadly, we have considered ourselves the masters of this world.  Today creation is telling us that we are only ‘guests’ not masters. Further, we have also distanced ourselves from other human beings, particularly from those who do not belong to ‘my’ class, community, category or nation. We have created systems and structures that only benefit the privileged few while we are unmindful of the majority who remain in abject poverty and misery. We have blatantly distanced ourselves from creation and people and justified it in the name of progress, development, growth. While scrupulously maintaining the recommended physical distance, may we heed the call to establish closeness to nature, closeness to one another within our families, communities, and nations. May this be a time of grace to look at our value system and see how to take care of the Earth our common home. Let us also review our economic systems and social structures in order that we may focus on the common good rather than that of a few, with special concern for the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, migrants, refugees and indigenous people.

Third, Use Masks:  The Corona virus spreads through droplets when infected persons talk, cough or sneeze. Therefore, the use of masks to cover our mouth and nose is proposed. While this proposal clearly has merit, we might like to recall the salutary reminder of Jesus that ‘it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean but what comes out of it that makes him unclean’. Last year, Pope Francis articulated this more clearly for our context when he said, “gossip is a diabolical cancer that arises from the will to attack someone’s reputation and it destroys the community.” During this time of crisis, and the Holy Week, let us wear the mask that will prevent us from talking ill of others or from gossiping. Let us also wear the mask that will prevent rumours, gossip and negative opinions of others from entering our ears, hearts and minds.  Spreading false information, multiplying fake news, and fomenting  negative thoughts and feelings is the biggest and the most dangerous virus which will kill us and will destroy the image God who is in every one of us. This is an internal, not external mask we must put on and dutifully wear.  This inner mask will remind us to control our tongue so we speak only well of others and remain positive amidst so much negativity, fear and anxiety.

If we wash our minds and hearts, if we get close to nature and to one another with love and if we consciously speak good of others and remain positive, we will truly destroy the tiny viruses that multiply in us so quickly. In order to stop the spread of the real pandemic coronavirus of our hearts that kills our inner selves, we must learn to find meaning in death: to die to our human nature and rise to the divine nature within us. Dying to oneself and one’s own human desires is not easy. It is an extremely challenging and difficult task. However, when we start living for others and spreading hope, joy, love and peace from the depth of our hearts, we start giving new life – we are heralds of and participate in the Resurrection.

Reflections in Youtube: Washing hands, Social distancing and Wearing masks.