A mask-wearing patient is wheeled to an ambulance in New York City March 26, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters
A mask-wearing patient is wheeled to an ambulance in New York City March 26, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters
We find ourselves in the strangest of times: a surreal mix of sadness, fear and, at times, desperation. We are worried about the health and well-being of our families and friends; we are anxious over financial uncertainty and pray that God will protect us and carry us through.

Reports are issued regularly on the rising statistics of coronavirus infections and deaths from around the world and right here at home. Filling the airways and internet streams are images and videos of people doing battle in our hospitals against this invisible enemy. We learn of nursing homes being decimated by the disease; young, healthy hospital workers getting sick and dying, and patient fatalities doubling overnight in some of the most beleaguered facilities. 

There is nothing in our lived experience that has prepared us for this. It seems like we are living through a sustained war being fought on our homeland, something we have not known in modern times. And as is so often the case in war-torn countries, the value of human life seems to go into freefall. 

Sadly, there are already far too many signs that this crisis is blunting the world’s appreciation of each person’s immeasurable worth. Each day, politicians and health officials discuss death rates and fatalities as if they did not represent human beings with families who will grieve, careers that will screech to a halt and dreams that will never be realized. It is an assault on the respect for human life when some in leadership seek to base critical health policy on the rise and fall of the stock market, the financial troubles of corporations or political ideology.

The cruel potency of this disease has stolen our ability to show the victims compassion and respect when it is most needed.  Because of the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 and the overwhelming number of patients who have succumbed to it in some places, the dignified care and comfort that are usually provided to the gravely ill and the dying have not been possible. Patients are not surrounded by loved ones as they draw their last breath; the bodies of the deceased in some New York City hospitals are being stored in refrigerated trailers, and burials are dispatched quickly and unceremoniously, without a public funeral Mass. 

Some of these developments are necessary to keep the public safe.  Other examples are unacceptable actions on the part of our leaders and should be called out for what they are – a move away from human dignity, a descent into the culture of death. In all cases, we can hold up the human stories of the sons and daughters, spouses and children, parents and grandparents who have fallen prey to this devastating illness. We can honor those in our parish communities who have died and pray for all those around the world who are suffering. 

We can live up to our calling, as Catholics, to always be a people of life, proclaiming the value of every person and patient and insisting that their immeasurable value be counted.