Coronavirus and divine chastisement

Matt C. Abbott
© Matt C. Abbott
March 13, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

Is the coronavirus (COVID-19) a divine chastisement?

I posed that question to Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

Strickland wrote in an email to me (lightly edited):

Some have asked if the coronavirus is some sort of divine chastisement. I believe our Catholic Tradition guides us to be cautious about this kind of assertion. Sin certainly has its consequences, and we live in a time when sin and ignoring God's Will seems to be the more dominant approach than seeking virtue.

That said, our ancient faith guides us to take the long view; we might even say the eternal view. God so loves us that He gave us His own Son as our savior. But even as His Son walked this earth, God left every person free to choose to follow Him or not. The coronavirus, or any other malady we face in the world today, represents the human consequences of ignoring God's Will in our world. There are many threads to this, but simply naming a few: we can point to the animosity between nations, the focus on material wealth that devalues the person, the attempts we all make to control our own lives rather than looking to the Lord of all – the list is seemingly endless.

Ultimately, rather than blaming God for His supposed chastisement, we should all look to our own hearts and our own choices. If I'm honest with myself, vulnerability to the coronavirus or any other evil rests to some degree on my shoulders. This is not to shift the blame from God to us, but instead, to leave aside the idea of blame and simply acknowledge that the consequence of sin and ignoring God's Will is always evil. The degree of the evil we encounter has an ebb and flow, but when I sin, I open the door to evil, and that is true for all of us – individually and globally.

Pavone wrote in an email to me (lightly edited):

No, Catholics shouldn't see coronavirus as a divine chastisement. The world is wounded, physically and spiritually, because of sin. That's why there's sickness and death to begin with. So in a broad and general sense, we know that rebellion against God – Who is goodness Himself – results in evil. Still, Catholics should always be wary of viewing particular evils as punishments for particular sins.

Of course, we know in our lives that particular sins will lead to particular bad consequences, and so they have a built-in evil consequence. But it requires far more speculation to connect a widespread disease with particular sins. Instead, a good Catholic approach is to use human reason and invoke the virtues of prudence and fortitude, with a good dose of trust in God.

We have to be careful but not panicked, cautious but not discouraged, filled with faith but not foolish, and should be praying for the protection of all and the healing of those who are ill.