But in reality, prudent measures, including suspending Mass or modifying certain aspects of it (such as the sign of peace or receiving the Eucharist in the hand instead of on the tongue) show great care and respect for the lives of many.
The COVID-19 ("coronavirus disease 2019") situation began to unfold just as I was diagnosed with a significant flare of one of my autoimmune conditions and had to go on a very high dose course of prednisone, a steroid that, among other things, suppresses the immune system and makes it much easier to catch serious, possibly life-threatening illnesses, including influenza.
Of course, I prayed about my health and relied on God for strength to get through the very difficult few weeks. But I also took practical precautions to protect myself from infection, including obeying my doctor's prescription of restriction -- staying home throughout the course and until my immune system had rebuilt itself.
In other words, I relied on God, but I did my utmost to be an excellent steward of the life God has given me; health and faith, working in tandem.
The recent decision by bishops in Italy to suspend Masses in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and some U.S. dioceses' decisions to modify parts of the Mass to reduce the possibility of germ-sharing might seem unnecessarily drastic or even antithetical to believing in a God who will protect us from all harm.
I have on occasion heard people of faith say that no one will ever get sick by going to church because God wants us to be there!
But in reality, prudent measures, including suspending Mass or modifying certain aspects of it (such as the sign of peace or receiving the Eucharist in the hand instead of on the tongue) show great care and respect for the lives of many. They are not a sign of weak faith but a sign of great love and understanding.
Of course, even if our own illness prevents us from joining others at Mass, or Mass itself is unavailable for a time, we still are under God's watchful gaze and we are still no less a part of the universal Catholic Church!
We can cultivate our faith among each other and individually through prayer, holding close those who have been affected by this new virus and those who struggle with other illnesses, too.
As uncertain as the trajectory of the virus in the U.S. might be, our Lenten practice can still be steady in observance and impact, even raising our awareness of and outreach to those in our communities who are older, infirm in some way, or in need of the encouragement that faithful fellowship can bring.
A grocery store run, an offer to do laundry, a simple, "I'm thinking of and praying for you" -- these and other gestures keep our relationships strong, now and in the future.
Precautions taken in some dioceses also bring to mind an important thing that each of us can do to serve others: Stay home if we are ill. This is not only so that we might mend more quickly but is vital for protecting those "vulnerable" people whose ongoing health, age or other factors make them more susceptible to serious illness.
Even if our own "cold" seems "mild," it can be potentially lethal for someone else. Truly, by staying home if we are ill, we are proactively looking out for countless brothers and sisters in Christ!
Although outbreaks of serious illnesses might make us feel anxious or helpless, in reality they are a good reminder of how, through our respect for life, ourselves and others, we can play a part in promoting protection for those who are vulnerable and better awareness and health for all.
A refresher on healthy habits and information on the current situation regarding the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are available at www.cdc.gov.
Maureen Pratt writes for the Catholic News Service column "Living Well." (CNS)
- Maureen Pratt is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.