May 07, 2020

Security in a Pandemic

By Russell Shaw *
Rembrandt's The Parable of the Rich Fool (1627).
Rembrandt's The Parable of the Rich Fool (1627).

Security. Safety. Safekeeping. The human craving for protection against harm is universal and reaches its anxiety-ridden peak in the face of an invasive threat like the coronavirus. Intensive media coverage heightens the sense of impending doom.  Granting that, however, some responses to the desire for security strike me as attempts to exploit the public mood..

In that category I’d put repeated internet ads I’ve received from a firm offering assistance in obtaining a legal permit to carry a concealed handgun; a solicitation, also repeated frequently, urging me to “protect” my retirement savings by investing in gold; and a heating and air conditioning company’s offer to sell me an air purifier since “with sickness on the forefront of all of our minds, the last thing we want is to be breathing  polluted air.”

But possibly my favorite security-themed item -- though not an ad but a news item -- was a story out of London reporting that “across Britain” vandals were burning telecom towers in the belief they emit waves that increase vulnerability to the virus.

While making no special claims for myself and my fellow Catholics, I nevertheless believe that the faith we share can and should lead us to deal realistically with the issues raised by the pandemic.

An example of doing that was the U.S. and Canadian bishops’ action May 1 in placing their countries under the protection of the Blessed Virgin. For those who view events with the eyes of faith, that was no mere pious gesture but a realistic step in the face of a crisis. In the same vein, most dioceses, parishes, and church-related institutions appear to have acted with commendable good sense regarding things like lockdowns and social distancing, while Catholics collectively have responded with patience, prudence, and good humor to the painful experience of being without direct access to the Mass for weeks on end.

As that suggests, this crisis obliges all of us to think seriously about where we look for security.

It is reasonable to look to things like medical care, insurance, and well-managed retirement plans to give us and our families security in times of need, and the social safety net should provide for those who can’t provide them for themselves (About handguns I have serious doubts. I don’t own one, don’t want one, and suspect that if I had one I’d be less safe, not more.)

But that said, it remains a fact that the gospels tell us to take a deeper--and yes, more realistic--view of security than an exclusive emphasis on medical care, insurance, and a solid 401(k) plan allow us to do. Jesus speaks about these things many times. Consider the familiar parable about a wealthy landowner who had lately harvested yet another bumper crop.

“Where can I store all this?” he asked himself. The answer was obvious: tear down his barns and build even bigger ones. That done, he thought, “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”

And Jesus concludes by underlining what ought to be an obvious point: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

There’s a lesson here about security in time of a pandemic or any other time. Look ahead, yes, but make sure you look far enough.

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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