In good times and in bad

When you get into June you know winter is upon you.

Our winters, of course, are not that bad by world standards, but there will still be cold, blustery days and nights, a bit of damp and dark, and in all probability some bouts of cold and flu. Still, we’re used to it, and we know the sunshine and warmth will return. Anyway, having no real option, we’ve learnt to be patient and to sit it out. The weather, the seasons, will come and go regardless of our wishes in the matter.

The pandemic has been a bit like a winter, albeit more of the Russian kind than we’re used to. It has kept us off the streets and huddled in our places of refuge, while it has brought so many ordinary activities to a halt. Work of many kinds, recreations and social life, even sport, have shut down while the “blizzard” time of the pandemic has been swirling around us. We’ve watched the charts and figures for signs of the “thaw”, and now we think we can see things improving. We take some heart from that, even though we know there can still be some late storms ahead and the gardens will take time to get over the frost. Patience is needed for a while yet.

A renewed regard for patience as a human strength may, indeed, be one of the better legacies of the year of COVID-19. The old wartime poster “Stay Calm and Carry On” had been enjoying a great burst of popularity even before the pandemic broke out, but its message can hardly have been more pertinent at any other time in the past 75 years. We had perhaps become too used to being able to do what we wanted when we wanted, to get what we needed at the moment we needed it. Most of the world didn’t enjoy the same privilege, but in some few countries we’d come to expect fairly instant gratification of many of our desires. “Stay calm when you’re going to take three days to restore my internet. Like hell I’ll stay calm.”

Now, I’m not saying that impatience, anger and complaint aren’t objectively justified when caused by others’ stupidity, laziness or selfishness. But, put simply, being generally impatient, angry and complaining is not good for us. There will be times when we truly need to “Stay Calm and Carry On”, and a culture of instant gratification and entitlement is a poor preparation for meeting them. Patience, good humour, resilience and the capacity to “carry on” require practice. Perhaps we’ve been getting some in these past months.  A “silver lining”, perhaps.

Finding positives in the COVID-19 pandemic, however, cannot take away the overall tragedy of it. When so many lives have been lost, so many families bereaved around the world, it would be worse than churlish to somehow focus on whatever benefits it may have brought to us personally or as a society. It has been a catastrophe for this generation of humans. Therefore, we in the Western world at least, will do everything possible to combat it and to prevent similar things in future.

Our tradition doesn’t accept that these things are fate or karma or “the will of God”. Our tradition does not allow us to be indifferent to the sufferings of others. It is part of the legacy of Christianity to the Western mindset that we believe we are accountable for what we do, or fail to do, for one another. As much as it might be fashionable to maintain that human beings are just a freak of chance in an indifferent universe, we don’t really believe that. We feel responsible, we feel “put here” for a purpose. I’m not a rock or a gum tree. I make choices. I can make a difference. So, we’ll throw everything at stopping this virus and learning how to stop them in the future. It’s what we do.

In the end, Christianity knows two ways of triumphing over adversity. One is to overcome the problem, to succeed against the odds, to stop the suffering. Christ cured the sick and drove out demons, right? The other way to triumph over adversity is remain faithful, to remain decent and human, in spite of insuperable afflictions. Christ died on the Cross praying for his enemies. Sometimes we need the courage to fight, at other times the patience to endure gracefully. At present, it’s a bit of both.

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.

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