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Entries from April 2020

An End to the Age of Hubris?

Not a few prognosticators have mused that the global crisis provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic might be an opportunity for a much-needed “reset” of social, economic and political systems. Indeed, the experience of confinement and self-isolation has led many to become more deeply conscious of, and grateful for, community, family, neighbors and friends. Almost instinctively, they have begun reaching out in gestures of solidarity. Teachers deliver books, tablet computers and food boxes to needy students and their families. Others check in on and run errands for elderly neighbors. Many are reaching out to family, friends, colleagues and students through countless video conferences. Families sheltering in place share meals, conversation and leisure activities once again. We are rediscovering the importance of staying connected.

A colleague recently observed the need to reflect on this new experience of “globalized vulnerability.” Could this be a chance to rediscover the true meaning of humanity? And whoever said we were invulnerable? Those born since the Second World War, especially those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, may just be the first generations in human history who have not lived with a constant concern for survival and the fear of death from successive waves of disease, infection, famine or violent conflict. Until this period—an age of antibiotics and technological prowess—the experience of humanity was marked by a profound consciousness of both the fragility and the giftedness of life, and indeed, by the knowledge of our interdependence on one another, other creatures and the earth.

Scientists see a clear connection between humanity’s aggressive assault on the natural world and the arrival of a global pandemic. Over the past decade, international teams of scientists have made the case for the recognition that since beginning from the mid-20th century, the earth has entered into a new geological epoch defined by humanity’s irreversible impact upon the earth, its ecosystems and climate. The Anthropocene era—shaped by unprecedented levels of atmospheric CO2, rising sea levels, desertification, deforestation and the mass extinction of species—they warn, is one where reckless modes of human living have been “playing with fire.”

Who can deny that much of the human community has been flying blind through an age of hubris, defying the gods, under the spell of excessive self-confidence? How else are we to comprehend the failing of leaders around the globe to heed the warnings of scientists and epidemiologists, neglecting to take sensible precautions, ignoring the inevitable? It will never happen, they told themselves. Or it will happen somewhere else, on some distant continent, and not impinge upon more “developed” societies. When it does, they thought, scientists would produce an antidote, a vaccine in short order. Even when the pandemic had reached their shores, the leaders of the many wealthy nations continued to deny, minimize and obfuscate in a breath-taking show of insouciance.

Pope Francis points to the dangerous technocratic paradigm and a “cult of unlimited power” that has seeped into our culture in his exhortation on the Care of our Common Home, Laudato Si. He rightly observes that our lifestyle reflects a “misguided anthropomorphism” where human beings have placed themselves at the center of everything. This, he suggests, has led to a dangerous relativism that “sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interest.” The poor and the vulnerable are easily forgotten, lost from view. In such a world, not a few have fallen prey to the false choice between human health and economic wealth.

Canada’s chief public health officer reflected in one of her daily news briefings that the pandemic “humbles us.” COVID-19 has confronted the global community with the limits of our scientific knowledge and shone a bright light on the fissures of our public health, social and political structures. The way forward requires a rediscovery of solidarity and the common good: the good of all the earth and all its inhabitants. This journey toward self-transcendence begins by the embrace of our mortal nature and need for others. It is high time to set aside the foolish pretentions of invincibility, to embark upon the path of humility and embrace our true humanity.

The health care crisis and the looming period of economic depression should not distract us from the crisis in the church and for the need for a comprehensive “reset” in the way the community of the baptized choose to live together and continue Christ’s healing mission on the world. Throughout his pontificate, Francis has called for a humbler church, one that is close to the poor and goes out to the peripheries. He has preached often and at length concerning the spiritual ills in need of healing within the culture and structures of the church and its ministers: the love of riches, honors and flattery, lack of transparency, rigidity and holier-than-thou-ism. It is this culture that led many to defend the institution and its clergy at all costs from accusations of abuse, to reject the advice of competent medical professionals and psychologists, to deny and minimize the maladies of spiritual and sexual abuse and many abuses of power, blinding them to the true pain and suffering of survivors.

Church leaders might take a lesson from the public health crisis. Sadly, some have yet to take to heart the advice and warnings of competent experts—not just lawyers, but medical professionals, psychologists, educators, theologians and survivors. They will need to test, study and arrive at a more accurate diagnosis of the disease, share information widely and take the full measure of its spread and better protect our children and the vulnerable. Greater transparency, honesty and open communication will be essential to restoring the confidence that church leaders are fully committed to creating safe and healthy communities.

When Pope Francis, inspired by Alessandro Manzoni’s work of historical fiction, The Betrothed, described his vision of a missionally engaged church as a “field hospital,” he could hardly have imagined our present predicament. Instead of looking for the church in the gathering of virtual communities provoked by confinement orders, let us not lose sight of how the gospel is being lived out away from the camera’s eye. There, countless men and women are working every day to comfort and care for the sick, the dying, the elderly and the disabled, the newly unemployed and the many uncounted victims of the crisis. In their humble service and self-gift, the church and the human community are being renewed.


Catherine E. Clifford, is a professor at Saint Paul University, Ontario.


Saint George Feeds the Dragon

After Cardinal George Pell’s acquittal on child sex abuse charges earlier this month, there was a momentary hope that this saga might end with the kind of humility that people of good will, not to mention a senior leader of the Catholic Church, ought to bring to such an agonizing episode.

The seven-member High Court of Australia ruled unanimously that the jury that convicted Pell of molesting two choirboys in 1996 after Mass in the Melbourne cathedral should have had reasonable doubt about the allegations. The court said there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.” Pell’s first trial on these charges ended in a hung jury in September 2018, but prosecutors retried the cardinal and the jury in the second trial unanimously agreed on Pell’s guilt in December 2018.

Last August, a divided appeals court ruled 2-1 against Pell’s appeal, but the High Court’s ruling on April 7 to quash the conviction was the final word.

Pell, 78, was immediately freed, having served 13 months of a six-year sentence. The president of the Australian bishops conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, issued a sensitive and carefully worded statement recognizing that the decision would be welcome news for some and “devastating for others,” and he reaffirmed the church’s “unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.” The Vatican, where Pell had spent a stormy tenure as Pope Francis’ point man for reforming Rome’s byzantine finances, struck a similarly balanced tone.

Pell’s initial statement also seemed aimed at reconciliation. “There is certainly hurt and bitterness enough,” he said. “However, my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church, nor a referendum on how church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of pedophilia in the church. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.”

Alas, the peace was fleeting.

Pell and his fan base soon reverted to the form that I described, and lamented, in my previous column here: casting blame on others, deflecting attention from their own faults, picking fights and generally disregarding victim sensitivities. This was not entirely surprising: From his cell last August, and contrary to prison rules and any sense of ecclesial prudence, Pell joined a fierce conservative campaign against the Synod on the Amazon with a broadside that questioned every aspect of Francis’ ministry, from his missionary outreach to the synodal path and his desire for a “Church of the Poor.”

Pell seems unable to help himself, and that he was acquitted during Holy Week proved a temptation too great to resist. “The Lord is close to those who have been unjustly accused,” Pell said in a grainy cellphone video message that he recorded in Italian and sent addressed to his Italian friends for Easter.

This was rich, given that during his time in the Roman Curia, Pell made a point of belittling Italian ways of doing business and even had memos from his office sent around in English, rather than the Italian that is the lingua franca of the Vatican. As Massimo Faggioli put it in Commonweal, Pell’s video was “clearly not aimed at Italian Catholics in the pews, but at prelates in the Vatican, which suggests that he still hopes to recover his standing in Rome or have some sway in shaping the political alignment in the college of cardinals.”

Also on Easter weekend, Pell wrote a column in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian (conservative media in Australia and in the Catholic world have been crucial advocates for Pell) that managed to identify his own suffering with that of Jesus while claiming that, while that abuse crisis was bad for the Catholic Church, “we have painfully cut out a moral cancer and this is good.”

A few days later, in an irresponsible interview on Sky News with conservative provocateur Andrew Bolt, Pell dropped any theological pretensions and went full conspiracy-monger, telling Bolt that the case against him was a “persecution” carried out by liberals and Australian state media because they don’t like Christianity or Pell’s bully brand of social conservativism. “The culture wars are real,” said Pell, who was willingly baited as Bolt tossed him one leading question after another. “There is a systematic attempt to remove the Judeo-Christian legal foundations, with the examples of marriage, life, gender, sex, and [toward] those who oppose that, unfortunately there's less rational discussion and there's more playing the man.”

His accuser, Pell said, was “used” by these evil forces, and he agreed with Bolt that authorities would continue “trawling for victims” to use against him. The cardinal also said that senor Vatican officials who didn’t like his efforts to clean up curial finances played a role in selling him out to Australian authorities, though he provided no evidence of such a plot. “Just how high up it goes”—meaning corruption in the Vatican—“is an interesting hypothesis,” Pell said. Well.

Pell’s conservative allies in the church never needed much encouragement to amplify such views, and they quickly piled on, pointing to the “psychological problems” of Pell’s chief accuser (the other alleged victim died of a drug overdose years ago) and describing Pell’s prosecutors as a “lynch mob.” They called for a government investigation of both Australian media and “corrupt” law enforcement, and they repeatedly depicted Pell’s treatment as the result of an anti-Catholicism that was at least equal to traditional anti-Semitism. “If Pell was a rabbi instead of a cardinal, he wouldn’t have spent a single night in prison,” wrote Michael Warren Davis.

A thread running through all of this commentary is that Pell was “innocent.” Certainly, Pell may well have been innocent of this crime, and there were good, and sober, arguments on his behalf. But as the New York Times detailed, the Australian justice system is so opaque that no one except the judges and the jury saw all the evidence and heard all the testimony, making outside judgments inherently uncertain.

Moreover, this was not the only accusation against Pell, or the only example of his dire response to clergy abuse accusations. Prosecutors could reopen a case involving even earlier abuse accusations against Pell, from when he was a priest—a case that was shut down once he was convicted of the other charges. There are also at least eight civil suits against Pell, and now that Pell’s appeal has run its course, the redacted sections of a Royal Commission study of the Australian church’s record on clergy abuse may now be published. The relevant sections had been blacked out during Pell’s prosecution because they concern his role as a priest advising the bishop of Ballarat about how to handle abusive priests, and later, about how he handled abusive priests when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

Even what is publicly known about Pell’s record overseeing abusive priests and dealing with victims is unsightly. Further revelations could put him in jeopardy not only with Australian authorities but also with the Vatican’s new anti-abuse procedures. As Michael Sainsbury wrote in La Croix, “no matter what the Holy See decides to do, or not do, George Pell will certainly remain tied up in legal knots for many years to come.”

That means George Pell will also be forever in the arena, a prospect that should frighten Australian Catholics who are preparing for a plenary council this October—a synodal process of the sort that Pell disdains—in an effort to promote reform and chart a new path for the country’s church. Pell’s prominence and support in some sectors in Rome are also worrisome for those who believe the church needs to open itself to self-examination, repentance and change.

The aftermath of Pell’s acquittal shows that the cardinal and his allies are stuck in the past, reveling in battles with ideological foes without seeing that they are their own worst enemies, and that the real casualty of such warfare is the Gospel itself. Sure, there is bias against the church and deep-seated anger among Catholics as much as the liberal secular elite conservatives love to hate. Who wouldn’t be angry at what church leaders were doing to cover up abuse while preaching about the sinfulness of others?

But casting Pell as the victim, and being reflexively offensive in your public witness and defensive about the institutional church, are the attitudes that got us into this scandal in the first place.

Yes, George Pell may have been acquitted in this case. But as his post-vindication conduct has shown, the church’s trials, and his, are anything but over.


David Gibson is a journalist and author and director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University. 


Together, We Can

Can you believe it? Resurrection? Pandemic? Did it actually happen? When will it end?

Oh, we always want answers. I have become particularly frustrated by the repetitive questions the Canadian media is presenting our prime minister (apologies to American readers for a bit of local color). The questions: How long will the physical distancing restrictions last? When will the economy rebound? How much will all the economic measures cost? We want answers! That’s what transparency is all about, but what if we don’t know the answers? Or more importantly, why is it so difficult to recognize the limits of our human capacities?

Many have commented, quite accurately, that this worldwide pandemic is striking at the core of the image that we have created for our human systems and abilities. Doctors are supposed to cure us. Medical systems are supposed to guarantee our health. Governments are supposed to ensure our security and well-being. Ostensibly, the privilege of the Global North entails invincibility and scientific enlightenment. Devastating pandemics may be the fate of Africa or areas in Asia, but certainly not here! Here I am to be protected and guaranteed safety, because I am a 21st-century North American with governments, health-care systems and bureaucracies functioning for my benefit.

COVID-19 tells another story. It is the story of devastation; it is the story of horror; it is the story of my being just like every other human being—frail, frightened and at the mercy of a killer we  cannot see. The dead have committed no crime, they have not angered a merciless god, and they most certainly have not been appointed to their fates by a transcendent power. We are witnesses to (participants in) something that we prefer to ignore: death and the sin of the world. When our health authorities tell us that the spread of the virus is in our hands, our compliance is less eager than our concern over when authorities will get things under control. We do not see ourselves responsible for our global fate, whether due to a pandemic, or climate change or widespread hunger and poverty. We do not admit our weakness and need for each other, need to live for each other and that for our world to be healed, we must let go of our privilege. We see Christ on the Cross for our future salvation, not for His Kingdom here and now. We fear to enter into the mystery of our Faith—the mystery of our human existence. We continue to see the Cross as something accomplished, concluded, in the past. When we lose sight of the Cross as a sign of our weakness, of a God who is as much absent as present, of a Church more enroute than arrived, we continue to demand answers. 

Fortunately, as we move through the Passion to the Resurrection, we can choose the Way of the Cross; we can recognize that together the Cross can be carried; we can know the healing that comes from experiencing God with us, among us and in us. We can rejoice in His presence, even when our churches are closed. We can be strengthened by renewing our awareness of the Spirit within us calling us to be priest, prophet, king. We can let go of those habits that have become crutches and stand in the way of fully living the inheritance of a child of God. We can put aside our need to simply obey and accept black and white answers. Despite the fear of letting go of normalized paradigms, we can take responsibility for our faith and renew the Church. We can be Church, not because someone says so, but because that is what we are called to be by the One who knew our name before we were born. We are the Church that passes through the Cross to the Resurrection. We can be the Church that proclaims a new vision for a humanity forced to realize its profound unity, through its infirmity. We can be the Church that lets go of its own standing and privilege in order to embrace the poor, the forgotten and the marginalized. I can’t alone, but we can together.


Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.


The Long Good Friday

“Zion is wasted and made low; Jerusalem, desolate and void.”

--From “Bow Thine Ear, O Lord,” translation of “Civitas Sancti Tui” by William Byrd

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, one of the annual highlights was participating in the liturgies of Holy Week as a member of the Liturgical Choir. During my time as a student, the choir was directed by the late Dr. Gail Walton (d. 2010), who masterfully combined musical perfectionism and loving mentorship of students. Within Holy Week, our first major task as a choir was a version of Tenebrae, the medieval service of darkness and light in which candles are slowly extinguished symbolizing the flight of the apostles.

One year, we sang for this service “Bow Thine Ear, O Lord,” a motet by the Tudor composer William Byrd that he wrote to evoke parallels between the plight of Catholics in England and the plight of the Jews during the Babylonian Exile. During one rehearsal of this piece, Gail became concerned about the gap in passion from the choir between this piece and another work, Louis Vierne’s thundering “Kyrie” from his Messe Solennelle, that we were going to sing for Tenebrae. She implored us to put the same passion into singing Byrd’s quiet lament as we did for Vierne’s “big” plea for mercy. Even a decade and a half later, this advice has stuck with me, and I think it is instructive for our present moment.

We enter the Triduum this year feeling spiritually and physically “desolate and void,” as Byrd’s motet would have it. Whereas usually Lent, particularly with the readings from Year A of the Lectionary cycle, picks up in intensity week by week culminating in the Fifth Sunday with the Raising of Lazarus, for many of us, this year’s Lent has had an entirely different kind of intensity—one that has not let up since just after the Second Sunday. This year, the Transfiguration Gospel and Peter’s exclamation that “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” take on ironic resonance, as we have been—for good reason—unable to attend church services since that time. Desolation and void have been our spiritual lot and are likely to be for a good part of the Easter season at least. It has felt, to borrow the title of a British film from the 1970s, like a long Good Friday.

How then to respond? Some in the Church have foolishly called for reopening public Masses on the grounds that the spiritual health and wellbeing of the faithful are more important than protection from disease. This attitude exhibits a kind of fideism, a rejection of the basic Catholic principle that we emphasize in our Catholic intellectual tradition seminars at Sacred Heart: faith and reason are compatible. Firm faith and hope in God do not justify reckless behavior with our earthly bodies, our “one wild and precious life” in Mary Oliver’s words, that is the prelude to resurrection life yet that has its own dignity and value worth preserving.

We must also avoid the temptation toward individualism during the Triduum, even aa—and precisely because—many are, in fact, alone. “Me and Jesus” spirituality is neither healthy for the individual nor authentic to Christian identity in community. Whether we are participating in livestreamed services (there are good arguments for and against this) or developing our own home rituals, we must do so in a way that goes beyond the closed-in mentality that Pope Francis so often laments in the church and that extends beyond the hierarchy to many of the laity. The mandatum of Holy Thursday this year will not be reenacted in the washing of the feet in churches around the world (or in a prison by Pope Francis), but this does not exempt us from its call; rather, it reinforces the idea that service must be part and parcel of our Christian lives. If we are not on the front lines of this fight as a health-care professional, grocery store worker or delivery driver, we must support them in whatever way we can, both in mundane ways, such as tipping generously, and deeper ways such as fighting for just wages and benefits for them. We cannot venerate the cross this year on Good Friday, but we can venerate what Ignacio Ellacuría called the “crucified people” in our community around the world who suffer and die as many still live comfortably amidst the pandemic. We cannot share the light of the Paschal Candle, but we can, in the words of Michael Forster’s Advent poem, “Kindle a light to lighten the darkness” because “God in the poor is coming” to meet us, judge us, heal us and free us.  What will our Easter offering for them be?

To return, then, to the wisdom of my late, great choir director Gail Walton: there is a danger that we will count the Triduum and Easter this year as less meaningful due to the quiet desolation we understandably feel. This would be to make the same mistake my choir did—to mistake fullness and gratification for meaning. Viktor Frankl wrote and spoke at length about finding meaning under the most difficult circumstances, and we would do well to learn from him that our feeling of emptiness offers a surplus rather than a deficit of meaning, and to act accordingly. In the words of tonight’s Introit, let us glory in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which is salvation, life and resurrection: through which we are saved and freed.  Let us use that freedom wisely and justly.


Daniel A. Rober is a systematic theologian and Catholic studies professor at Sacred Heart University.


On Praying in a Pandemic

The Covid19 pandemic brings into sharp relief the interdependence of all humankind. We in the western capitalist democracies are being confronted with the illusory nature of our claims to autonomy, individualism and progress. Suddenly, everything is in flux, the habitual routines and rituals of everyday life have been suspended, and we wonder with some justification if things will ever be the same again. We find ourselves in limbo, suspended between a past that may have disappeared forever, and a future that nobody can predict.

In this time of social isolation, it’s not surprising that Christians are taking to social media with what is becoming a daily deluge of prayers and blessings, holy pictures and homespun rituals, livestreamed Masses and virtual devotions. There are many reasons for such intensity of prayer. There is the anguish of those living with illness, death and bereavement; the exhaustion of health workers daily risking their lives to help others; the loneliness of those who are cut off from society and have no one to turn to; the abandonment of those who are poor and homeless, of migrants and refugees, of all who already inhabit the desolate margins of our consumerist societies and whose meager sources of care and support have suddenly vanished. Yet it’s unsettling to notice how Christian social media is focusing more on different ways and means of praying through Holy Week and Easter than on ways of responding to our neighbours in need and forming communities of care and support for those who are most vulnerable.

I’m not denying the importance of prayer and worship, particularly during this holiest time of the Christian year, nor am I denying that many Christians are doing everything they can to provide a safety net for those most in need, but still I’m uneasy about the frenetic activity of online liturgical life right now. Sometimes it can seem as if the greatest impact of coronavirus is its disruption of the church-going activities of western citizens. It has pushed into oblivion the most desperate and despairing people on our planet, and a widespread preoccupation with our own struggles and deprivations is distracting us from the plight of those who must now add coronavirus to a long catalogue of misery and marginalization. Is the problem that deep down, we expect God to behave like some capitalist overlord who keeps rich white people safe from the scourges of disease and social and economic chaos that happen every day in every way to the poorest of the poor?

Theodicy rears its ugly head in times like these, as theologians leap into action to tackle the problem. Why does God allow these things to happen? What explanation can theology offer to help people to reconcile their faith in the goodness of God with disease, suffering and death? But there is no new theological challenge about coronavirus. Pandemics are as old as humankind, and faith must always grapple with the challenges posed by tragedy, trauma and catastrophe. 

Coronavirus belongs within a natural order that includes disease and death, but the challenges it presents are surely not so much about God as about ourselves. The rapid spread of the disease was made possible by globalization. We know today that the globetrotting consumerist lifestyles that many of us in the West have come to expect are not sustainable. We have also discovered that, faced with an unprecedented crisis, we can respond with remarkable urgency in bringing about a radical change in the way we live. Yet there is increasing evidence that, unless we willingly make some of these changes as a long-term commitment to sustainable development, we are likely to be overtaken by an environmental catastrophe that will dwarf this present crisis.

Even the worst pandemics eventually pass, but the environmental crisis will not pass. That is why this may be a moment of epochal significance for all life on earth. While many of us long for the restoration of our social interactions, for reunion with family and friends, for a return to normal, we must also ask what ‘normal’ might be after this. How can we embed the more positive aspects of this strange time of suspended animation into our institutions and lifestyles?

Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ reclaims the forgotten wisdom of the Catholic tradition with regard to the interconnectedness of all God’s creation and the graced capacity of every form of life to reveal something of the trinitarian mystery. As modern western culture surged ahead with its confidence in science, reason and progress, our relationship with the natural world – including our own bodies – became infected with dualism. The earth’s riches became commodities to be exploited rather than wonders to be marvelled at. Humankind became divided between the tourists and travellers who treat the earth as a vast theme park, and the refugees, migrants and exploited workers who constitute the shadow side of the capitalist jamboree. Other species became instrumentalized, valued only for their usefulness to humans. Yet today we are rediscovering what our pre-modern forebears knew all along – that we are part of a delicate and wondrous symphony of life played out through all the diverse species and forms of nature. We humans have an awesome responsibility for how our behavior impacts on this graced harmony of being.

I live on a houseboat on the River Thames in London. Every day during this crisis, I kayak across the river to the nature reserve on the other side for my daily walk, and I wonder anew at how the sounds of nature are emerging against the unfamiliar silence of this vast city. Flights to and from Heathrow have dwindled to a few a day. Traffic noise has faded into insignificance apart from the occasional wail of an ambulance bringing a stark reminder of the times we are living through. The birds are singing in the full-throated exuberance of spring, and May shrubs flower in snowy abundance along the near-deserted paths beside the river. I sit on the bank and watch the water turn to gold in the setting sun, and I imagine that the earth is rejoicing in this brief respite from the wanton destructiveness of human activity. We may even find in the end that fewer people overall will die this year, because the air we breathe is cleaner than it has been for a very long time.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 7 million people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution. Children living in polluted cities are likely to suffer damage to their lungs, stunted growth and impaired brain development. Even if we face several more months of coronavirus, the impact is unlikely to come anywhere near to these figures. The environmental crisis is a more deadly and stealthy pandemic than any disease, and yet it has created barely a ripple in terms of bringing about the kind changes we need to make.

There is growing evidence that the reduction in human activity of the last few weeks is dramatically reducing air pollution. The question is, what happens when this crisis is over? To ensure that this is not just a brief respite in our headlong dive towards an annihilating catastrophe, we need to insist that our governments make radical changes in policy, economics and law. This will mean an end to the neoliberal globefest that has lined the pockets of the rich and pushed the poor to the margins of survival. It will mean embracing as part of our normal lives some of the extreme measures that we have proven we can live with during this pandemic – and we may find that we are happier for it.

I have recently been reading Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, first published in 1952. It is a searing criticism of how the exaggerated work ethos of modernity induces a collective amnesia with regard to our capacity for contemplation, silence and the enjoyment of creation. Pieper calls his readers to rediscover the essence of our humanity in recognizing leisure as a form of worship, because it invites a letting go of all our preoccupations and anxieties and a reclamation of our capacity for wonder beyond the boredom and distractedness of modern life.

The word ‘crisis’ derives from the Greek ‘krisis,’ but the biblical Greek has richer meanings than its English derivation. It refers to a time of judgment and decision-making, a time of separation and discrimination when we must choose between life and death, good and bad. We might associate it with the biblical concept of ‘kairos,’ referring to a time out of time that constitutes a rare moment of opportunity and the potential for transformation. This time of krisis is a kairos moment. It may never be repeated. In all the dark mystery of suffering and death, coronavirus might yet prove to be the wakeup call that saved the planet. ‘See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.’ (Deut. 30:15). This may be our very last opportunity to choose life and prosperity for future generations. I hope and pray that we choose well.


Tina Beattie is professor of Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton, London.