Pandemic Reflections

This has certainly been a strange and disturbing few weeks we have lived through, with practically our entire world going into shelter-in-place mode in the face of COVID-19. Most shocking of all, at least from my perspective as a friar, is the cancellation of public Masses. Here at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in Benicia, CA, we have responded to this painful situation by streaming our Masses and other services online. Having worked quite a bit on getting this live-streaming working, I’ve had a lot of opportunity over the past couple of weeks to ponder both the blessings and the potential curses of modern technology. And to be honest, I’ve begun to think that as a culture we have overestimated the power of our technology a little bit.

For example, when social media first swept across our society a decade or so ago, people had high expectations for its ability to bring people together, but now there is a lot of empirical data suggesting that in reality it often does the exact opposite. Similarly, modern medical science has achieved such enormous victories that many of us were starting to wonder if our technology could even conquer death itself. Then, at the height of our confidence, completely out of nowhere, a tiny little virus emerges, takes us totally off-guard, and completely disrupts the international order we have worked so hard to construct.

Now, I am no expert in science or economics, or in anything really, but it seems to me that the coronavirus pandemic should teach us something: we are not the masters of nature. Rather, we are the stewards of nature, and there is a big difference between the two. We are not the masters of nature because no matter how much our scientific wisdom progresses, there will always be a significant part of the natural world that remains elusively out of our control. Only God has absolute control over the natural world, and therefore only He is its Master. If we were the masters of nature, we would be God. But we are not God. God is God.

Now of course, we all need to do everything in our power to slow the spread of this potentially lethal virus. This includes obeying all social distancing measures recommended and/or enforced by the relevant authorities. Our efforts will save lives. But even if we succeed in controlling this virus through our prudent efforts, nature can quite easily throw some other crisis at us, just as unexpectedly as the coronavirus pandemic. This should be very humbling for us. This should teach us that, even as we seek to extend our control of the natural world through technology, as is right, we must humbly acknowledge our lack of ultimate control. If we as a culture can acknowledge this, then our technology can be in the service of God’s plan for us, not a replacement for it.