Anna Githens
We are united by our weakness
By Anna Githens
April 9, 2020

A wise saying is often expressed in Alcoholics Anonymous: "We are united by our weakness." I could not help but notice how much this axiom applies to our present situation.

Every human being on this planet that we share, whether rich or poor, black or white, male or female, young or old, is susceptible to contracting COVID 19. Regardless of nationality, color, ethnicity, socio-economic status or religious affiliation, whether Chinese or Italian, South Korean or American, atheist or agnostic, Christian or Jew, ... all are equally vulnerable to this illness.

Suddenly, the playing field is leveled and the fragility of life hits home. Everyone is at risk. No one is completely safe. A person of power or someone seemingly insignificant, a well-known celebrity or someone relatively unknown, all share something in common: vulnerability to disease. Not a human being among us can say that he is strong enough to withstand contamination. We are indeed united by our weakness.

This does not necessarily mean that we will allow our weakness to unite us, but herein lies an opportunity. Although the circumstances were quite different, this challenging time may bring to mind post 9/11 days when Americans came together and supported one another. I will never forget watching members of Congress spontaneously break out singing "God Bless America" on the steps of Capitol Hill. Sadly, our unity seemed all too brief.

Yet, most of us look back on that time with longing. Not for the tragedy and loss of life, of course, but for the hope that lived and still lives in each one of us; the hope that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned: "that we will one day join hands and sing, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

These days his hope may seem impractical, not only for the fact that holding hands has become a taboo germ hazard, but also because this viral infection has hindered our freedom in ways that we could never have imagined. Perhaps thanking God may seem incongruent to our current circumstances.

Businesses and schools across the world have shut down, churches have closed, and Masses have been cancelled. Even the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, the site of the Marian Apparitions of St. Bernadette, has closed. Thanks to St. Bernadette's unwavering trust and God's Mercy, the world was blessed with a beautiful sanctuary and healing waters on a picturesque French hillside. For centuries thousands of infirm throughout the world have flocked to the Shrine to immerse themselves in her sacred waters. No one has been turned away and thousands have been healed. For the first time in history these waters are no longer available to us.

Truly a time of spiritual desolation has come upon us. This is our time in the desert, a Lenten experience like never before. What should we do with this time? We can look to how Jesus responded. Jesus spent forty days without family or friends in the desert, during which he was tempted by the devil three times. Yet Jesus responded fearlessly and unwaveringly by invoking God's Word. We, too, can seek refuge and strength in God's Word. Through committed prayer it is possible to transcend fear and reclaim hope.

This crisis offers us an opportunity to remember that we are brothers and sisters who belong to the same Heavenly Father. We are all limited and flawed human beings in need of God's mercy and healing. Shared weakness, or, "the shared honesty of mutual vulnerability openly acknowledged" is where we human beings connect. Our common weakness unites us because we are part of something much bigger. He, who is Holy, Mighty and Immortal, created us, loves us and longs to offer us healing.

Still, you may wonder how a loving God could let this happen. God did not create this virus. How do we know? The Bible tells us, "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being and the creatures of the world are wholesome. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him" (Wisdom 1:13-14, 2:23).

Recently a friend said to me, "God is mean," to which I responded, "God is love (1 Jn 4:8), The devil is mean. God made everything good (Gen 1:31)."

So then why is there illness and death? "By the envy of the devil death entered the world" (Wisdom 2:24). God does not cause evil, however, He permits it, which is something entirely different.
    "God is in no way directly or indirectly the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because He respects the freedom of His creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it." Catechism of the Catholic Church #331
God's ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:9). His idea of freedom far surpasses our limited understanding of the concept.

We were created in love, which means that we were created to be free. Love must entail freedom and God respects our freedom. We are not marionettes on a string and God is not a puppeteer in the sky. He gave us free will because He loves us. This means that we have the choice to do good or not do good, which is choosing evil. Whenever evil is chosen, death is brought into the world.

When we ignore God, when we distrust His goodness, when we spurn His love, when we doubt His holiness, His majesty, and His mercy, when we disregard His laws, His precepts and His commandments, time after time after time; when God's goodness is forced out of our institutions, our schools, and our homes, we make ourselves vulnerable by leaving a vacuum for evil to jump in and inhabit.

In fact, this warning from God comes in the very beginning of the Bible. In addition to God's warning to Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God warns Cain to control his unruly passions or they will overtake him. God says to him, "And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7).

Its desire is for us, but we must master it. Why is the devil's desire for us? Because he envies God and despises His children. He wants to keep us apart so he tempts us to sin. The good news is we can master sin. God says we must master sin. How can we do this? By committing ourselves to work toward self-mastery and by appealing to His Holy Spirit for help. It basically boils down to a decision to do good or not do good, to resist sin or give in to temptation. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments will provide the spiritual sustenance our soul needs so that, in turn, our bodies and minds may be strengthened.

Presently, when it seems like illness and death are at our door, we feel powerless. When an addict refuses help, we may hope that he "hits rock bottom" so that perhaps he will admit that he is powerless over his addiction and choose to surrender to God, or his Higher Power. We are all powerless over death, but we can turn to Jesus who overcame death and assures us, "In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

For too long our worldly treasures have enslaved us. Attachment to our material goods has eclipsed our spiritual consciousness. In our quest for knowledge, power, prestige, or wealth, we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are made in the Image of God; that we are matter and spirit, body and soul. True freedom does not neglect the well being of the soul, but ensures that both body and soul live in accordance with the truth. The Spirit of Truth, or the Holy Spirit, lives in our hearts and wants to free us from the bondage of sin.

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" asks St. Paul. "You are not your own" (1Cor 6:7). We must be willing to relinquish control and trust that the Spirit, who dwells in us, has our backs.

Dying to self is an act of submission to the will of God, for His power is higher than all worldly power combined. Yet, He made Himself low for our sake. He took our sins upon Himself, suffered, died and rose again so we might have life in Him. He sent us His Spirit and He "has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Our Heavenly Father wants a personal relationship with each one of us, for every one of us is uniquely important to Him. I say this based on my own experience. During a very low time in my life I felt God's presence like never before. One night I prayed to Him with great fervency and He answered me. I felt as if He was holding me in the palm of His hand, and then I immediately felt overwhelming peace. God wants us to cry out to Him from the depths of our hearts. Believe me, He will answer you. Let us use this time of desolation to be still so that we are able to hear Him and feel His presence and love.

Even if this virus dissipates and everyone and everything recovers, including the economy, let us allow this experience to change us for the better. The Twelve Steps are a wonderful guide for anyone seeking to undergo spiritual conversion. The first time I became familiar with the Twelve Steps I remember thinking that they would be beneficial to everyone, myself included.

In his book, Addiction and Grace, Dr. Gerald May contends that every human being is addicted to something on some level, and so God gave us the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for that reason. Jesus Himself instituted Penance as a Sacrament. The Twelve Step program is simply man's way of translating His gift into identifiable steps.

Dr. May says, "we frequently repress our desire for love because love makes us vulnerable to being hurt." To repress a desire means that one tries to keep it out of one's awareness while focusing on other things. Psychology calls this "displacement." When our desire for God is replaced with something else it is called an addiction.

A wise teacher of mine once asked, "If you are not walking with Jesus, then, with whom are you walking?" When we turn from God and partake in sin we are, by default, choosing to walk with the one who lurks at our door, who prowls about the earth seeking the ruin of souls. By doing so, we block our ability to receive graces from God. Eventually, addiction will cause a gradual deterioration of the soul.

St. Augustine said that sin is anything said, done, or desired that is contrary to divine law. When we sin we turn away from God and turn toward a creature instead. He saw man's sin as corrupting everything, including man's social and political life. Our addictions keep us from communion with God; we eventually become estranged from Him and from the community. As said in Genesis, "[they wished] to be like gods knowing both good and evil." The refusal to be dependent on God, the futile quest for independence from Him, and the absurd attempt to be His rival, is the very nature of sin. Our awakening to this reality, and accepting that our deepest desires will never become fulfilled if we continue on this path, is what brings us to see that our addictions have replaced God.

Let us turn to our Father Creator in repentance and humble submission, for now is the time to prepare our souls. If you are in a state of mortal sin and you are not able to confess your sins to a priest, pray to God for forgiveness from the bottom of your heart. You must be truly sorry, not because you are afraid of damnation but because you hurt God. Then resolve to go to confession as soon as you are able.

Let us always remember that we are brothers and sisters united in weakness, that He alone is the Source of power and strength, and He wants to make us well. His Spirit is alive and with us because His only begotten Son died for us and overcame death, even death on a cross.

We have hope for a vaccine and for this virus to depart from us. Still, we must trust that God's grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). As St. Paul tells us, if we acknowledge our weakness, the power of Christ may dwell in us, for in this way, whenever we are weak, we are strong (cf. 2 Cor 12:10).

May we never forget that all could be lost in a single moment. Let us heed the words of St. John Paul II, "Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song." For we are alive through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. All glory and honor belongs to Him now and forever. Amen.

© Anna Githens


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Anna Githens

Anna Githens is a freelance writer who is passionate about promoting Christian ideals and tried and true American values. With an M.A. in Theology from Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary and a B.A in Economics from Providence College, she has diverse career experience in bond trading, teaching, and journalism. She is a mother of three wonderful sons and resides in New Jersey with her family.


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