The Black Plague in the Middle Ages was during medieval times. You know, before modern medicine and the industrial revolution and technology. Even the Spanish Flu in 1918 was before vaccines. Just as long as we can get everyone on board with vaccines, history will never repeat itself. Some people thought a pandemic today which would reach so far and so wide was unthinkable. Some people thought this generation was untouchable.
Science is Great, Scientism is Not
Bishop Barron often talks about the concept of “scientism” at his wonderful apostolate wordonfire.com. The scientific method of forming a hypothesis and testing it, of observation and classification, is all fantastic and has greatly advanced mankind. However, in scientism, any human knowledge that cannot be proven with the scientific method is invalid. Art, poetry, literature, philosophy, etc are all discredited. Love does not exist. God does not exist.
This Coronavirus crisis has taken a stab at scientism. There was no scientific solution. No cure, no way to contain it. Left and right political parties are in an uproar about their differing opinions. All the science, all the data, the different ways of washing your hands, or making a mask are no more than opinions and theories in development at best.
There has been no physical, scientific solution to getting rid of this problem. There has been no physical, scientific solution at preventing this virus from affecting the entire world on a spiritual, emotional, and psychological level.
Progressivism, Where is Your God?
Is our society better now than it was 50 years ago? More “open-minded”, more “tolerant”, more comfortable? And was it better 50 years ago than it was 100 years ago? We won’t go back so far as those dreaded “dark ages”.
Are there positive and negative aspects in every era? Progressivism would argue that we are clearly better off now. However, if the end goal in this life is the salvation of souls, is for a person to decide for eternity if he or she accepts God’s love, that possibility is open in every era. Perhaps this era is less spiritual than others even.
Just like scientism, progressivism is really put into check now. Are we so much better off than the people that lived through the Black Plague and Spanish Flu? Physically and medically, it seems pretty similar. Spiritually, we are just as shaken to the core.
Spiritual Solutions to Natural Problems
We “moderns” tend to find it silly to remedy something of the material order with something of the spiritual order. I like to read The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie de Paola to my children and it is about a Native American girl who sacrifices her most precious treasure, a doll, to bring about rain to end a drought. If only Native Americans had weather forecasting and artificial irrigation their silly spirituality would be unnecessary, right?
Even as Christians, we read the Old Testament as a bit outdated. God doesn’t really send floods or destroy cities or even send plagues, does He? There are probably scientific explanations behind the natural events the People of Israel interpreted as part of their Salvation History, right? It’s all a little uncomfortable how people pray and fast in response to something modern science might explain or even cure.
Some people even try to explain away the more “unscientific” parts of Jesus’s ministry, too. I would say it is impossible. Jesus is not a life coach. Jesus is not just a teacher with some bright ideas that are all verifiable by the scientific method. Jesus is healer and only those in need of healing, even physical healing, can understand that. Jesus uses His spit and mud and puts his hands on a man’s eyes to cure him of a purely physical problem. If there were ophthalmologists back then, would Jesus be out of a job?
No, Jesus uses the physical order to touch the spiritual order and with His Incarnation, they are in a profound communion.
Saint Josemaria Escrivá frequently explained that he would rely on spiritual resources and leave the problems in God’s hands. When faced with a problem, he would sometimes go on a Marian pilgrimage and entrust the problem to Our Lady, instead of trying to resolve it directly. In Guadalupe, Mexico, St. Josemaria concluded: “We threw ourselves into her arms. She will sort everything out. I am sure that is is already sorted, right now.” https://stjosemaria.org/guadalupe/
God, our Father, and Mary, our Mother
All Christians are called to entrust our problems to our Father in Heaven, also to the Mother given to us at the foot of the cross. St. Josemaria prayed, in Guadalupe with words similar to what Pope Francis has used during this pandemic: “Monstra te esse Matrem! Show us that you’re a Mother! (…) If a little child asked his mother that, there isn’t a single mother who wouldn’t be moved.” https://stjosemaria.org/guadalupe/
The world is God’s handiwork and we should certainly be moved to study all creation and God inspires all honorable human endeavors. However, we are still creatures in need of a Creator, children in need of a Father and Mother. There is no science that can explain away that need and that ache in us. There is no science that can take care of us and count every hair on our heads and love us. There is no science that can save us from death.
Oh, Death Where is Your Sting?
This pandemic reminds us that “you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), with or without science. People do crazy things when they are scared to die. Scientism fails us in times of crisis, but God our Father revealed to us by Jesus Christ, calls us to Him through a crisis and is always waiting for us, like the prodigal son’s father. Christ’s life transforms, renews, strengthens, unifies, and doesn’t weaken with death, but is glorified.