There is not one person whom COVID-19 has not affected, whether patients who have contracted the virus or those of us in quarantine. Regardless, the most important question to be answered, which many people are asking, but many are also ignoring, is the following: how do we respond spiritually? The answer is the same as it has always been, namely, to be a saint. But how?
Well, speaking from experience, I have no idea. However, one thing is certain: in order to be a saint, one must choose to be. The difference between those who become saints–canonized or not–and those who do not become saints is a choice. Rather, it is a series of choices that puts the person on a path to holiness and conformity to the person of Jesus Christ. While we must take advantage of all of the spiritual tools available to help us grow in our spiritual life, these tools will do nothing if the person’s free will is not in a state of cooperation with the grace of God.
If a person wants the spiritual life to be easy, then they also will not be able to pursue sanctity. They are confused about who the Lord is. The Lord Jesus said it clear as day: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). So we must be clear what we are getting into. The person we follow is not Buddha, it is not Gandhi, it is not Joel Osteen, and it is not even your priest. The person we follow is the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. He is Truth incarnate and He is an everlasting Father. But He is all of these things crucified. And we likewise must be crucified, that we may rise again with Him on the last day. “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). So we need to be clear that there is no easy trick to becoming a saint, other than to simply choose to be. And doing this is hard. But with God’s grace, it is eminently possible.
This is all nice and true, but how specifically can we accept the gift of God’s grace and become holy during this time of the virus? This will differ from person to person, but we can start with Jesus’s command to love our neighbor. Most likely, the people we are spending the most time with are our family members, who may also happen to drive most of us insane when all quarantined together for weeks. While this sounds like a nightmare at first glance, it’s actually the opposite when you look at it from God’s perspective. What is love? Love is to will the good of the other. And willing the good, that is, choosing the good, of the other, is difficult, because oftentimes it involves sacrificing our own desires. Someone might do something extremely bothersome in your home and get on your nerves. Instead of impulsively responding to your desire to tell them to stop doing whatever is bothering you, take that annoyance and unite it to Jesus. We might not want to do the dishes, and we might not want to help make our home a more peaceful place. Well, do them anyway and unite it with Jesus. When Jesus said to pick up your cross, He didn’t mean you’re going to be walking around with a physical cross all the time. Rather, we have all sorts of varying sufferings of various sizes. We can take the little sufferings and crosses that often happen in family life and unite them with Christ’s passion. This is infinitely beautiful and redemptive. It’s part of St. Therese’s little way, and it’s absolutely the truth.
In addition to loving our family and neighbor, even, and especially, when we don’t want to, we must also love God. We do this by avoiding evil and doing good. The evil we must avoid is sin. If you have sin in your life (we all do, don’t worry), you need to work to avoid it. This is impossible on your own strength, but it’s extremely easy for God. Look around you; God created everything. And you doubt his ability to sanctify you and remove sin from your heart? Of course He can do that. Sin can only be avoided if it is acknowledged, so honestly examine your conscience to see what kind of sins you might be lying to yourself about. Once you have examined yourself, you must turn back to goodness. The only way we can turn back to goodness is through grace, and this is distinctly found in prayer.
Prayer is the pillar of the spiritual life, and without it, we will not be able to love our neighbor, we will not be able to avoid sin, and we certainly won’t have much luck loving God. Every day, when you wake up, the first thing you should do is pray. Don’t go looking at your texts. Save that for later. The very beginning of your day should be devoted to booting up your spiritual system to be able to handle the trials of the day, as well as to be receptive and grateful for the many blessings God will give you during that day. At a bare minimum, you should spend ten minutes with God before you start living out the day God gives you. If you don’t do this, it’s going to be much harder to get through the day in terms of doing good and avoiding evil. This prayer should continue throughout the day, and be supplemented with spiritual reading such as the gospels, other scriptures, or other spiritual books such as the lives of some saints you find interesting. You might turn to Jesus randomly with aspirations, asking Him to show you His love and mercy throughout the day.
So, to keep this short and to the point, let’s review the keys to the spiritual life during quarantine. First, love your neighbor and be kind and patient, especially when it’s hard. If you can’t be nice and are in a bad mood, just keep your mouth shut, but not in a passive aggressive way. This is a hard balance, but ask Jesus to help you and He will. Second, avoid sin, and examine your conscience so you can actually acknowledge your sins. And third, you must pray. Through prayer will you receive grace to be able to live the spiritual life during quarantine. With all of this time on your hands, I bet you can find some time to connect with the Creator of the universe. Probably a significant amount of time.
If you can keep all of these things in mind, you can become a little saint, whether you become canonized or not. Enough reading this article and get after it!