Since COVID-19 arrived in our world, we as human beings have changed. We have changed the way we act, the way we live, and the way we treat others. This virus has brought about another virus of a different nature, a social virus if you will. It has spread all throughout society, turning many of us into monsters. The way we are treating others at the behest of rules, government and unrelenting fear is appalling. Over the past week, I have found myself reflecting on this tragedy that has befallen our society.
This past weekend, I attended mass at my local parish, whereupon the first reading and the Gospel focused on leprosy. In Biblical times, a leper was seen as unclean, looked down upon and cast out from society. In other words, they were completely isolated, left to die on their own. In Leviticus, a book from the Old Testament, it was deemed that if one were to present with leprosy, the priest should declare him unclean and send him out to be exiled. In the New Testament, however, we hear in Mark’s Gospel of a leper presenting himself to Jesus Christ, asking Him to heal him.
Here, Jesus has a choice. He can choose to follow the usual order and cast out the leper, or take pity on him and heal him of the disease. Jesus chooses the latter, healing the leper and allowing him to go forth clean and overjoyed.
This story is deeply reflective of the times in which we find ourselves now. There are currently many of us who act like the priests and wider society, looking down on those who do not abide by new social norms. For example, those who do not wear masks are immediately judged by others who think masks are critical to protecting society from COVID-19. This occurs even when there have been no locally acquired cases for weeks on end. I saw this very judgement occur at mass. In New South Wales, mask mandates are no longer in existence in places of worship. While the Government still highly recommends the wearing of masks at these venues, it is not essential, and thus should not be enforced. Yet, as parishioners entered the church prior to mass, I witnessed several maskless individuals being told they must wear a mask. Even though it was no longer mandatory, people were still being forced to wear masks if they wanted to attend mass and worship God.
It was therefore ironic per se when the parish priest, in his homily, spoke of how we are treating people differently simply because of fear. This is true. Like those who cast out the lepers, we now cast out others who we view as a “risk” even when they clearly pose no risk to anyone. Like Jesus, we all have a choice as to how we will treat others in these trying times. But unlike Jesus, many of us fall victim to fear. We allow that fear to corrupt us, to bring out the worst in us. We would rather shelter ourselves from society, treating everyone as if they are unhealthy, unclean. We choose to look out only for ourselves, not for others. For Christians, we worship the rules instead of worshipping God. This way of life is going to tear apart the very fabric of society if it continues to pervade and persist. But there is a way to prevent this outcome.
To bring society back to what it once was, we must have the courage to make the choice that Jesus did when confronted by the leper. We must choose to show kindness to others, to treat them as we would if the virus did not exist. While this may be challenging for some of us who have become stuck in the ways of the new world of fear in which we reside, each one of us is capable of changing the way we act. For example, instead of persecuting someone for not wearing a mask, we should consider that this is a personal choice. It is not on us to make someone else’s decision for them. Particularly now that masks are no longer mandatory anywhere in New South Wales apart from public transport, it is important that we do not pass judgement on others for choosing not to wear one. If, like me, you attend mass regularly and see someone who is not wearing a mask, respect their decision and move on. If a mask is so important to you, by all means wear one. But do not treat a fellow parishioner or fellow member of society like a leper for abstaining from doing so.
Fear is indeed a powerful force. It is difficult to contain, especially when it is so widespread. But with a little courage and a little compassion, we can overcome it. If we make the choice that Jesus did, we can drive fear out of society. While COVID-19 is likely to be here for a while yet, we must continue to stand up against the fear that threatens to overpower and destroy society as we know it.
Instead of treating each other like lepers, we must instead treat fear as such and cast it out before it does the same to us.
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Joel Agius is a young Catholic Conservative writer currently studying journalism and creative writing with Griffith University. He writes on freedom, religion and the human condition, mainly focusing on the Australian and US social and political scenes. He also volunteers as a Special Religious Education teacher in State primary schools, and occasionally contributes to The Spectator. You can find him on Twitter or read his work over at his blog. If you would like to support his work, you can click here.