Faith, Hope and Hygiene


The New York Virus Expert

After attending public schools on the Upper West Side of New York City, Joshua Lederberg entered the college of physicians and surgeons at Columbia and went on to receive a doctorate in microbiology from Yale. At age 33, while a professor at the University of Wisconsin, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his laboratory work with microorganisms. After teaching genetics at Stanford, he returned to New York to serve as the president of Rockefeller University from 1978 to 1990. He served as a medical consultant to nine presidents and to the NASA spaceflight programs. He urged astronauts to self-quarantine after returning from outer space to keep the earth free from contaminating microbes. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he received multiple recognitions including two of the highest USA awards granted to civilians, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In Awe of the Sacred

As we Catholics turn to God for strength to gain control over the current COVID-19 pandemic, two quotes are especially germane from this profound American researcher. The first is a sobering scientific warning. Dr. Lederberg gives us the correct perspective when we are combating a potentially deadly entity, which is 10 million times smaller than humans. He said, “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.” On the positive side, he had this to say about his own enthusiasm for scientific inquiry and how confidently we can, with God’s help, keep ourselves safe: “I certainly saw science as a kind of calling,” he said, “and one with as much legitimacy as a religious calling.”

How to Kill a Virus With Kindness

The three theological virtues are Faith, Hope and Charity. This month, as we move from the Lenten Season into the Easter Season, we can confidently expand the virtue of Charity into a very practical act of kindness and one that Dr. Lederberg would encourage us to embrace, namely hygiene. After all, there is no better act of charity we can extend to our neighbors nowadays than frequent ablutions and recommended social distances. Let’s practice holy faith by believing that God is watching over us, and practice holy hope that this disease will end soon, and practice charity toward others by practicing holy hygiene.

For Holy Homework: For the next 30 days, let’s post this three-word reminder above each sink in our house: Faith, Hope, Hygiene. And during the time we are scrubbing our hands, knuckles, in between our fingers, and underneath our fingernails, lets pray three fervent Hail Marys for those who are suffering most from this silent but violent virus which is actually bigger than us, but much, much smaller than God.

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