Those WhatsApp posts!

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In these turbulent times of Covid-19 pandemic social media has proven, once more, how important it is for our lives. When social distancing has become the buzzword or guideline of our days, difficult as they are, social media has come in to build bridges and create communion amongst us. Always, thanks to the digital world!

The English scholar and poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote: “No man is an island.” It is very intriguing that this simple, popular and effective piece of wisdom came from the pen of a soldier who knew perfectly well what a battle is all about and how it can evolve! By the way, are we not engaged in a silent battle against the minutest of enemies that can ever exist under the sun, an invisible virus? At least, John Donne and his military comrades fought against a visible enemy. And, we hope, that they won. But, as we have said, with coronavirus is certainly another story. So, thank God for the medical expertise and its much-needed instruments, that can detect it and, by God’s grace, will find the right medication to simply erase it from the land of the living! Oh! This horrible virus! How many lives it has already claimed!

We have to acknowledge though the fact that the current world situation, which coronavirus heinously created around the world, brought about much fear, anxiety and insecurity. Commenting on how the coronavirus scenario is impacting the mental wellbeing of people, the Chicago-based psychologist Patrick McGrath, head of clinical services for NOCD, which is a telemedicine site that offers online treatment with licensed practitioners for people who are suffering from OCD, says: “I’m seeing a lot of disappointment among patients. Someone with social anxiety disorder will say, ‘I was in the middle of treatment, I was just getting out and meeting people and this is setting me back. The worry becomes, ‘How do I pay my bills? What if I lose my job? What if I lose my car? Anxiety disorders are based on two words: ‘What if,’ followed by the worst scenario your brain can devise.”

Even Pope Francis, in his famous speech preceeding the Urbi et Orbi blessing on Friday 27 March 2020, during this extraordinary moment of prayer, at the Sagrato of St Peter’s Basilica, had some strong words which amply describe the crisis we deeply steeped in at the moment:

“Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented.”

Personally speaking I was very touched by what the sociologist Michel Maffesoli wrote on Le Figaro of March 24, 2020 in piece called The death of bioethical autonomy? “Death of a purely individualistic conception of existence. Of course, the out of step elites continue to issue clichés such as ‘taking into account contemporary individualism’, and other nonsense of the same kind. But the anguish of finitude, a finitude whose reality can no longer be hidden, incites us, on the contrary, to seek mutual help, sharing, exchange of ideas, and the sharing of experiences.”

Returning back to what Pope Francis observed regarding the current Covid-19 scenario, I noticed that the Pope moved away from the trap of being a prisoner to the anguish that is created by this persistent crisis. Instead, he wisely opted to sail far and far into the open seas of hope. In fact, and within the last mentioned sentence, he thus concluded it with the following words: “But at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.” At the end of his address to an empty square but certainly to a much wider hidden international audience, eagerly attached to a TV, Ipad, computer or a smartphone screen, Pope Francis ardently prayed: “Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts.”

Pope Francis phrase “comfort our hearts” and Maffesoli’s words: “seek mutual help, sharing, exchange of ideas, and the sharing of experiences” both of them keep reverberating in my heart and mind the biblical portion from the Prophet Isaiah which is very much stressed throughout the Holy Week we have just celebrated: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn (Isa 61:1-2). As one can clearly see from this pericope one of the principal works of the Messiah is that of consoling the afflicted, the brokenhearted and those who now mourn.

In this perspective, social media, particularly WhatsApp, has been at the forefront in letting itself be an instrument of God’s consolment for His troubled people. Personally speaking, I want to share some of the messages I received on this American freeware, cross-platform messaging and Voice over service owned by Facebook, Inc.

Joan of Arch: Go forward bravely. Fear nothing. Trust in God; all will be well. Or, Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7). POPE FRANCIS, Urbi et Orbi/ 27 March 2020.

Perhaps, one of the best posts I have ever received during this troubling time of Covid-19 was the following one, as written by C.S Lewis, in 1942, entitled The Screw Tape Letters: Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.” Jesus: “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”

If you and I keep considering and believing that WhatsApp is a phenomenal way of keeping the light of communion and fraternal solidarity and care burning amongst us, then these simple reflections have humbly fulfilled their purpose.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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