As we continue through the season of Lent, our minds turn back to the events of a year ago and the beginning of the pandemic. Churches closed, schools all remote and social gatherings suspended. A year later, even as we look forward to the continued rollout of the vaccine, we are taken aback by the more than 500,000 people that have lost their lives in the United States alone. Many of us have known someone who has fallen victim to this terrible virus. As I reflect on all that has taken place this last year and the awful toll that Covid-19 has inflicted on us, I am reminded in this season of Lent of the other pandemic that has faced humanity from the beginning, namely, the illness of sin.
Before the fall in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in a state of perfect harmony with each other and the entirety of creation. The first two chapters of the Book of Genesis beautifully describe in poetic language the way that God created everything from nothing and then crowns His creation with humans who can relate to Him in a communion of love. But, as we know, things go wrong very quickly as our first parents succumb to the lies of the ancient serpent and sin enters the world. The Church has taught for centuries that original sin is passed down from generation to generation, this wound that all of us are born with.
There are volumes of texts written about the nature of original sin and its effects but it suffices here to simply say that original sin is not something we are born with, but rather something we are born without, the life of sanctifying grace in our soul. It is at the moment of baptism when we share in a mystical, sacramental way in the death and resurrection of Jesus that the life of grace fills our hearts as the Father calls us His own beloved sons and daughters. Despite being infused with the very life of God, we still have free will and through the effects of the fall we are inclined to sin.
The challenge for the disciple has always been to live in the world and yet struggle to avoid being infected by a sick and diseased culture. The Lord calls the time in which He lived “wicked” (Matthew 16:4), and St. Paul exhorts his communities to be blameless in the midst of “a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). This surely can be an apt description for our own time as well. This virus, this pandemic of sin, is highly contagious and how easy it is for us to be in contact with it and see its effects in our lives. From the violence we see in our cities to the breakdown of the family and alienation and marginalization of the poor, we are keenly aware that things are not as they should be so we seek healing and wholeness.
Jesus, the Divine Physician, has entered into this place of spiritual infirmity to bring us the remedies we seek. This comes to us most profoundly through the sacramental life of the Church. There is the great sacrament of confession to restore the divine life in us when it is lost and the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives as Catholics, which strengthens us against the contagion of sin. For we priests, it is an enormous grace to be the minister of God’s mercy and help those who seek His healing. To be a physician of souls is something that men discerning the priesthood should aspire to. There have been accounts of people receiving the Covid-19 vaccine crying tears of joy. How often have my brothers and I experienced the tears of joy that come from the repentant sinner who has received something so much greater than a vaccine? They have been touched by the healing, pierced hands of the One Who truly cares for us and makes us well.