By Dan Ebener
Under a voluntary, self-quarantine for two weeks because of my recent trip to Croatia, this virus has provided me with time to slow down, reflect and pray — after an all-too-busy stretch. I feel fortunate that I have a job where I can teach online and continue to be productive from home.
In Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” at one point, the local priest describes the plague as an act of God meant to punish the people for their evil ways. The priest later repents of this viewpoint, instead joining the corps of volunteers who are treating the victims with kindness and compassion. These were the true acts of God.
In times like these, there is a lot of suffering, and for that, it is common to look for easy scapegoats: blaming China, blaming Trump, blaming globalization or blaming the Democrats. Some are even blaming God by calling this an “act of God” — as if God would set out to destroy his own creation.
One of the regular targets for blame are the people from afar. Jesus refers to them as “the stranger.” The Greeks had a word called “filoxenia,” which means “love of the outsider.” In the tradition of filoxenia, the stranger is seen as a guest, and the guest is not a burden but a blessing, an opportunity to show hospitality.
God has always been calling us to build a more compassionate, loving and kind world. Jesus talks about this as building his kingdom. This virus can bring out the xenophobic worst in all of us, or it can be an opportunity to show what people can do when we all pull together.
While the politicians and the media speak a lot of nonsense, we can come back to some ancient truths about our God, who as Aquinas taught, is a God of love, truth and beauty. Through my recent rendezvous through international airports, I saw a lot of distraught people and heard a lot of confusion. But I also witnessed goodness and kindness in others, from unexpected places like the airport crew, airport clerks and random passengers. If ever there was a time for Godly behavior, this is such a Kairos moment.
With multiple threats to humankind, we will need many acts of God, many heroic acts to save the human species. The etymology of the Greek word “pandemic” means “all the people.” To be pandemic means to be global, to see the connections we have as people from different countries, as people all connected all around the globe.
This virus is teaching us that we are no longer separated by borders, but we are connected by God, and that everything in God’s creation is interconnected. Once we see those connections, we can begin to practice those small “acts of God” that just might save us.
(Dan Ebener is director of parish planning for the Diocese of Davenport. and a professor in the St. Ambrose University Master of Organizational Leadership program.)