by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
A recent Pew Center poll revealed that 24% of all Americans expressed that their faith had been strengthened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while only 2% felt their faith had been weakened.
Similarly, a recent Gallup poll indicated that 19% of Americans thought their faith had been strengthened by the pandemic and only 3% considered their faith weakened.
In the Pew poll, those who attend religious services weekly or even monthly were most likely to indicate that their faith had been strengthened, but 26% of even those who described themselves as attending religious services only a few times a year expressed their faith had been strengthened.
Of those who described themselves as seldom or never attending religious services, 11% thought that their faith had increased.
With many people deprived of the activities that they rely upon for amusement and comfort — such as sports, concerts, movies, success at work, dining at restaurants, etc. —space has been created to open our hearts to God.
Gallup researchers found that in the 2008 economic downturn, religious people appeared to be able to cope better with financial uncertainty.
This data suggests that the current health and economic crisis presents an opportunity to help others discover the gift of our Catholic faith. Whether we are aware of it or not, those around us are observing how we are coping with the stress created by the pandemic, as well as the economic uncertainty that has resulted.
Your family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers are watching and observing how you are weathering the current storm.
Our ability to maintain genuine peace, to be sensitive to the needs of others, and to have a capacity for joy even in the midst of significant stress is helping to shape the opinion of others regarding the positive difference faith makes in one’s life.
The second reading from this past Sunday from the First Letter of St. Peter, the apostle, counsels the early Christians: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
Living in the environment of the health and economic consequence of a pandemic, it is easy to become dispirited. Many Americans have died of COVID-19. In light of the super-contagious characteristic of this virus, we are all living with the real possibility of infection.
As a result of the shutdown of our economy, many small businesses have closed. Our nation is approaching record levels of unemployment. We are attempting to navigate this surreal world of social distancing. Many are experiencing acute loneliness because of social isolation. In this context, it is natural to ask the question: What reasons do I have for hope?
In addition to all that is going on in the world around us, we each carry our own personal burdens. Some of us have recently suffered the death of a loved one. Some of us are coping with debilitating and life-threatening illnesses.
Many are trying to care for someone with a serious illness. Many have worries about their children and grandchildren. Many of us are coping with broken or wounded relationships with family members and friends. Why should we have hope?
Our reason for hope is not in the world outside us. Christian hope does not reside in such things as material prosperity or physical health or whether we are thought well of in the court of human opinion.
Our hope rests, rather, in the promise of Jesus: “I will not leave you orphans.” Our hope is anchored in the assurance of Our Lord to his disciples: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The foundation of our hope is the promise of Jesus that we are never alone, never separated from his love.
We have the blessed assurance that just as the darkness of Good Friday was the doorway to the Easter victory, so our Calvaries — when embraced with faith and love — give us access to a share in the triumph of the risen Lord.
Our serenity and our joy, especially in the midst of suffering, are the very instruments that the Lord desires to use to draw others to himself. When people see our peace in the midst of all the storms of life, they want whatever it is that gives us a capacity for such joy.
About a month ago, in light of the fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths caused by COVID-19, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asserted: “The number is down because we brought the number down.” The governor added: “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that.”
It is true that a lot of people, especially in the health care profession, worked hard to combat COVID-19. Moreover, we absolutely should salute the doctors, nurses, and hospital staffs for their heroic efforts to care for their patients.
Yet, we should also pause to acknowledge the source for their gifts and talents that equip them to provide this amazing service to their communities. Whether they realize it or not, ultimately God entrusted them with the gifts they are employing to help their fellow human beings.
Think about the many people who contracted the virus, but had very few problems because of the built-in defense system within the human body. Who is the source of the immune system in our bodies that protects us from so many health threats? Acknowledging God’s role in healing and protecting lives does not diminish the tireless efforts of so many heroic individuals.
St. Paul gives one of the most powerful descriptions of Christian hope in the Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes: “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Our reason for hope is quite simple. It is Jesus Christ. It is in a God who immersed himself in our human condition so that we could share in his divine life. Let’s face it. The Christian is never without reason for hope.