God Is ‘Up to Something’ in the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is demonic. And that means something great is about to happen.

To be clear, I don’t mean COVID-19 is literally the work of Satan; it’s a virus, and part of our natural fallen world. What I mean is that it is doing exactly what Satan wants done in our lives:

It is attacking faith, severing millions from the sacraments.

It is attacking love, cutting us off from each other.

It is attacking hope, crippling us with fear of sickness, death, and hardship.

But Jesus uses the very things that most please the devil to thwart him. 

“Almighty God,” says the Catechism, “would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.”

That ancient Homily for Holy Saturday expresses how this works at Easter: Satan tricked Adam and Eve in a garden, so Jesus’ burial tricked Satan in a garden. They stretched out their hands to a tree of life and got death, so he stretched out his hands on the cross of death to give them life. Their sin exiled them from Eden, so Jesus’ mercy will enthrone them in heaven.

In the same way, Satan delights in the enormous grief the coronavirus has caused by making people suffer and die alone — but Jesus Christ intends to turn lonely tears into shouts of joy in the company of heaven.

I love seeing how Catholics are taking the very aspects of the pandemic that please the devil and using them to thwart him.

The pandemic separated us from Mass, but opened up a wealth of opportunities for faith.

“If not for the pandemic, we wouldn’t have had a retreat like this,” said Father Jay Kythe on Easter morning. The Monks of St. Benedict Abbey in Atchison, Kansas, moved their retreat for Benedictine College students online and hoped 100 people might participate. Three thousand joined, from six continents, in part thanks to Aleteia.

Like many others around the nation, the Ascension Press Bible study my son and I were attending had to disband. But instead, Jeff Cavins offered a free online version that reached far more than the parish groups were reaching.

That kind of thing is happening over and over: We miss going to Mass and will return the second we can, but we have gotten remarkable homilies from Bishop Robert Barron and Father Michael Schmitz instead. My children have heard — and have been pondering and discussing — the fundamental mysteries of the faith from the foremost preachers of our time. What fruits will this bear over their lifetimes?

Anxiety, fear, and strife are unfortunately part of the pandemic experience. But so is love.

At Benedictine College, we noticed early on that our students were responding to the crisis by finding imaginative and energetic ways to reach out to others.

One student started an organization to run errands for at-risk groups. Others turned a 3D printer into a way to help medical professionals. Nurses educated in our Mother Teresa Nursing Center followed their patroness’s example, risking themselves for others. We began to collect their stories of hope, and more, under the hashtag #RavensWillRise.

Just as the stories of first responders rushing into burning buildings to save others became the enduring narrative of the 9/11 terror attacks, stories of medical professionals, truckers, and community volunteers are becoming the enduring story of the pandemic.

“If not for the pandemic …”

Father Jay Kythe gave a remarkable testimony at that Abbey retreat. The pandemic terrified and upset him at first, he said. But now, he found he could say, “Even though times are difficult, people are dying, and there is sickness and grief, God is up to something.”

“If it were not for the pandemic, we would not have had this retreat. If not for the pandemic, we would not have connected so well with so many of you,” he said. “If not for the pandemic, well, fill in the blank for yourself …” he said.

So I did.

If not for the pandemic, my two-coasts-plus-Kansas family wouldn’t be spending so much time together by Zoom.

If not for the pandemic, one friend’s children would never have seen Jesus Christ visit their very own street in their pastor’s Eucharistic procession.

If not for the pandemic, another friend wouldn’t have introduced her children to silent prayer daily together in the chapel.

Or — dare we hope? — the pandemic might spark fundamental change.

Maybe, because of the pandemic, we will stop encouraging overhyped partisan journalism and value thoughtful credibility from the press again.

Maybe, because of the pandemic, we will stop taking the sacraments for granted and, now that they have been taken away from us, long to meet God there again.

Maybe, because of the pandemic, we will finally realize that real life happens away from our screens, and that loving others face-to-face may be dangerous but it is worth the risk.

Like Father Jay, if I could skip the pandemic I would — in a heartbeat. But God allowed it, and he is up to something.

A version of this appeared at Aleteia.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.