Dorothy Day, a social activist and Catholic convert, was only 9 years old when a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated the city of San Francisco in 1906. This crisis and the events that followed had a lasting impact on her life’s work. She would later write in her autobiography, the “The Long Loneliness,” what she distinctly recalled witnessing after the ground stopped shaking:
“While the crisis lasted, people loved each other. It was as though they were united in Christian solidarity. It makes one think of how people could, if they would, care for each other in times of stress, unjudgingly in pity and love.”
What crises like the 1906 earthquake and, now, the global health pandemic we are in, illustrate is that human beings are fully capable of compassion and often choose compassion when granted the opportunity. In times of crises, humanity’s innate tendency is to rise to the occasion in solidarity with others.
Re-Thinking Our Relationships
The drastic and dramatic changes that have occurred since the COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to pause and re-think our priorities in life and our relationships. In the past few weeks, we have witnessed signs and stories of solidarity and compassion popping up in every corner of the globe. People being kind to one another. Healthcare professionals putting their lives on the line to care for the sick and the dying. The young and the healthy making the effort to reach out to the older generation in many different ways, like running errands for them and sending them notes. An Italian priest giving up a ventilator for another patient. This outbreak has served as a reset button in many ways for us to re-think and rediscover our sense of community. The pandemic miseries have us realizing the message of Saint Paul that we truly are one: “if one part of the body suffers, all the parts of the body suffers” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
In recent years, society seemed to have been on a trajectory where our divisiveness and differences were increasingly becoming more apparent but now, as we are confronting a common enemy, our commonalities have become more apparent than our differences. This global health pandemic is a defining moment for humanity. And the choice is ours to step up or flee. Here is the opportunity for us to realize that we are one body and rediscover that the collective is greater than the individual. It is no wonder the hashtags that contain the word “together” are trending daily on social media in the last few weeks. I can’t imagine us getting out of this mess unless we do it together.
None of us can do without each other, and the health crisis we are in has made that crystal clear. Our need for that sense of community is as natural as our need for water or air and that need is stronger than ever.
The Greek word for community, “koikonia,” appears 22 times in the New Testament. Our modern conceptualization of its meaning might not capture the original essence of what Saint Paul was referring to in his writings, but there is a deeper sense of bond and oneness in his use of the word koikonia. We are called to a very profound sense of community, modeled on the “community” that is the Trinity.
The beloved founder of EWTN, Mother Angelica, said: “The Trinity—three Persons in one God—is a community—a family. God is love and that love extends Itself in the Christian and in turn, must extend Itself to the world—the Family in the Trinity and the Trinity in the Family.”
Community is a Gift
The word “community” contains a root word, as well as a prefix and suffix, that may denote its special meanings. Within “community” are the words “common unity.” There’s also the Latin word cum which means with or together and the Latin word munus which means gift. We may not always see it that way and we often take it for granted but our common unity, our shared humanity, is a gift. Community gifts us with that sense of belonging and that sense of oneness.
The global pandemic has shown us that our relationship with one another is truly interdependent. In the concept of Christian community, our existence is defined by our relationships. We are children of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Just like the Father is a father in relation to the Son, and the Son is a son in relation to the Father. And the Father and the Son are one. Jesus prayed that we, too, may be one, just like He and the Father are one (John 17:22). And though there are many different parts, they all form one body. So it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). There should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffer, all the parts suffer with it. If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). And now is the time to realize that we are one in this global community.
Reinventing Social Connections
I don’t know how long this pandemic will last and what its impact will be in the long run but it has already made a massive imprint on our lives and on our social interactions. The handshake is doubtful to make a comeback. Hugging might end up being a casualty. Other physical signs that re-affirm our social connection will have to be re-created and re-defined. Many of our social interactions have already moved to online platforms and yet people are more committed to re-engaging with one another and making the effort to connect socially and emotionally, albeit digitally. The same online tools (i.e., social media) that tend to showcase how divisive and how mean we can be to one another is now showcasing our potential for compassion, empathy, and connectedness.
I’d like to think that this 21st technology that humanity has created was not meant to divide us but to connect us. In this crisis where separation is required, we have the opportunity to realize its potential to do more good than harm, more connectedness than divisiveness. In many ways, online technology has recently been utilized to do good by keeping us connected to our loved ones. Now we are even finding more creative ways to show how much we value others. I hope that this COVID-19 virus completely goes away soon but it is also my hope that these efforts of connectedness, compassion, and common unity remain ingrained in how we interact with one another even as we carry on with our social interactions both online and in person.