This is one of a series of pastoral and personal reflections on living in this time of pandemic. It was written by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, as his weekly column published April 1 in The Tablet, the diocesan newspaper, with the headline “Coping with isolation during the coronavirus.” This is part of an occasional series of reflections CNS will have from some U.S. Catholic bishops.
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The old saying that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop is so true. In times of idleness, we accomplish little, and we are more vulnerable to life’s usual temptations. Our own personal laziness and any other faults we have seem to be exaggerated during times of idleness, and when we are not sure of what to do with ourselves.
How can we cope with this idleness during this period of confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic? I offer you some suggestions that I am following myself. Last week I offered some spiritual guidance and suggestions to you, and I thought that perhaps this week, these practical suggestions may be of assistance to you.
How can we live in close confinement with our dearest family members? It is not always easy to do; however, we need to find ways to cope, especially for the school-aged children of our family.
Home schooling is now a necessity. Setting aside time to assist children with their lessons, which now have been communicated to them through their Chromebooks or iPads, is a priority. In addition to their studies, children need some time for recreation.
As difficult as it may be in the home, where many people in this city live in apartments, there are many ways for recreation besides TV and computer games, which need to be monitored carefully; puzzles, board games, or perhaps even setting aside time for reading a book are a good idea. Since families are together, we need to do more things together, for example, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, and any household chores that can be turned into some type of fun game if possible.
Family prayer, as I suggested in my column of last week, is also very important. This opportunity gives families time for real family discussion of important issues such as: What is a pandemic and why do we see that we cannot protect ourselves from this great health calamity. Another problem is that of evil itself. Why do people die? Does God somehow inflict punishment upon us? Of course, this will take some reading on the part of the adults in the family, so that they might have some basis on how to explain these things to children.
In an old column I wrote in 2010 on the Haitian earthquake, I wrote on the problem of evil, using the riddle of Epicurus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?
His riddle gives no answer in the secular world, but it does give us an indication that the problem of evil is one only we can solve by looking at the cross of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our salvation. Evil is only conquered by the suffering that is willingly given back to God himself.
For those of you who live alone, keeping busy is key to prevent sinking into a depression, which will not be good for anything or anyone. Perhaps this may be a time for early spring cleaning. Getting at those closets, drawers and stacked up papers that we are loath to deal with might be a way to keep our minds occupied. We could also go through our old tax returns as we prepare our new taxes for this year, which by the way, now are due on July 15, 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic. When going through old tax records, it is a good idea to set the old ones aside for shredding. We are told that we should only keep our returns for seven to 10 years. Also, with old financial records, checking accounts or anything that we do not really need, this may be a time to go through these old records and put them aside to be properly disposed of when we can.
Little by little, each day we need to find things to keep us busy. All the things we are loath to do are perhaps the best things that we can do to keep us busy at this time. But we do these with recognition that we are doing a Lenten penance at the same time.
In general, reading good books, some educational television, limiting our news time, since it is usually bad news, although we must keep abreast of what is happening, and perhaps more spiritual TV as was recommended in my column last week may be a good way to keep our minds occupied.
Indeed, we are putting out into the deep by living with ourselves and with our family in a new way. It is important that we use this golden opportunity to come closer to one another and not separate ourselves from one another. Social isolation is necessary these days to flatten the curve of the pandemic, but not for our families. It is a great time to catch up with our friends and relatives that we have not talked to in a long time, by telephone or social media which are available to us.
We must come to love and support one another more and more. We must make the best of this opportunity that has been given to us. Be assured of my prayers for you as together we face the coronavirus pandemic.