I learned a bit of trivia this week that is quite ironic. Do you know who the patron saint of infectious diseases is? Saint Corona, martyred during the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, around AD 170.
Saint Corona ministered to soldiers who had been captured, tortured and were ill. Her punishment was torture and execution. It Is believed she was around 16 years old.
Her feast day is May 14. In the town of Feltre, on the slopes of Mount Miesna in northern Italy, there is a church built in her honor by the first Crusaders. Around AD 1000 her relics were carried to western Germany, where they are now being prepared for display, for public veneration once the coronavirus epidemic has passed.
Baptists, of which I am one, don’t pray to or even recognize the office of Sainthood, but this does serve to point out something significant. The Church has always responded to crisis and need throughout history.
A New York Times article recently attacked religion – particularly but not exclusively, evangelical Christianity – as being at fault for the severity of this epidemic. The writer says evangelical Christians don’t believe in science and instead are superstitious and foolish. People like this are advising this President. This must be stopped, the writer says, so that those not poisoned by anti-intellectualism may once again lead our society.
Once again it is ironic that in New York City, a city woefully short of hospital beds and where the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst, the three leading medical centers, according to the US News and World Report, are Presbyterian, founded by Presbyterians; Mount Sinai, founded by Jews; and Langone Hospital, founded by Lutherans. To my awareness, nowhere in the United States is there a medical center founded by agnostics or atheists.
People of faith are not anti-science; they are simply anti-despair, anti- hopelessness. And why is that? Because when you know that the end of your story is safely in His hands, you have hope. That doesn’t mean being foolish. It does mean we must do those things we CAN do, without giving in to despair.
Infectious diseases are nothing new. In the 1940s and 1950s there were the polio epidemics. Many died; many more were left paralyzed. While not nearly as contagious as COVID-19, people were afraid to go in public, especially swimming or to the beach.
Life on this planet is full of stories of epidemics and pandemics. I recently learned that my maternal grandmother lost one of her brothers in the flu pandemic of 1918. We have also seen flu pandemics in 1930, 1957-58, 1968, and in 2009 (H1N1). Thus, the coronavirus pandemic is not a new thing; it is just another version of the same thing.
In each and every case, followers of the Resurrected One were on the front lines responding to these crises. Christians have consistently led the way in helping people in times of need. Don’t forget, the Red Cross is a Cross.
In the Gospel According to St. John, chapter 11, verses 25-26, Jesus says to his friend Martha, whose brother Lazarus had just died of some illness – maybe a virus:
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and
everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
What is our Lord telling her? What is He telling us? By faith, we know the end of the story. Death does not have the final say. We believe that, in the Resurrected One, we have the hope of eternal life. Thus, by faith we know that in the end, COVID-19 will not win. Darkness cannot defeat light. When you know the end of the story, you have a source of hope that never dies, that never fails.
In the meantime, be smart in this crisis. Use hand cleaner. Practice social distancing. Be careful where you go, what you do. But, don’t be afraid. Walk in the light of truth. Walk in the knowledge of the end of the story.
It may get worse before it gets better, but don’t give up hope in the future. And always, in the name of the One who give us hope, help those you can.