The pandemic that we are all living through has affected everyone — rich and poor, young and old, male and female, every race, language, culture and way of life. In my lifetime, nothing has so affected the entire world as the coronavirus pandemic.
During these months, we have heard stories of conversion, of heroes, of perseverance in the face of adversity. In his homily on Good Friday, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, said, “We should not waste this opportunity. Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain.”
One lesson that we will all learn from this pandemic is that we will be happy with less. We might have to learn this just because of the economy. It would be wonderful, however, to learn it out of conviction, not just out of necessity.
To start with, most of us have too much. Most people have an average of 12 pairs of shoes. That’s 24 shoes — and we only have two feet! So much of what we do is way over the top. Our food waste is sinful. We throw away food that could feed all the hungry many times over. We have become accustomed to having too much. This will all change, and should change.
On May 2, I witnessed how happy we could be with so much less. Two colleagues in the Alliance for Catholic Education got married — Will Newkirk ’14M.Ed. and Erin Rosario ’13, ’15M.Ed. I do not know how long ago they began to plan their wedding and reception. The wedding they had could not have been the ceremony they planned or wanted. Their parents were not able to be present. They were only allowed 10 people in the Log Chapel. No place could host a reception. I have no idea how many more things they had to cut from their wedding. Lots for sure.
Some of their close friends in ACE organized a “wedding reception” in the Grotto parking lot. A few days before May 2, all of us in ACE received emails inviting us to show up around 12:30. Erin and Will did not know that we would be there. When I showed up there were 80 to 100 people there with their families. Some were sitting on the top of their cars. Others were practicing blowing their horns! Still others were putting balloons on Will’s car. There was a spirit of true excitement in the air.
After Fr. Joe Carey, CSC, ’62 gave the newly married couple the final blessing, Erin and Will walked from the Log Chapel to the Grotto and made a visit to Mary. Then they proceeded to the parking lot to their car. When they turned the corner from the Grotto, they could see all of us clapping and cheering and beeping horns at this unusual wedding reception. When Erin and Will walked by me, they were so happy — beaming with joy. I will not forget the looks on their faces.
Someone had arranged for Will and Erin to greet their parents via Zoom on a computer screen. The newly married couple danced their first dance. Totally beautiful. This is one wedding reception that I will not forget.
Later, as I drove back to my hall, I cried the whole way. First, I cried because their wedding could not have been what they wanted or planned or dreamed of. Almost no guests. No parents. No walking down the aisle. Not a “normal” reception.
But then I cried because I saw how they were beaming with joy nonetheless. They were truly happy and joyful. This made me realize how happy we could all be with so much less. It was a great lesson for me.
In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes of creation, “We would be satisfied with so much less.” How true is that? God has outdone himself, if you will, in all that he has created for us to enjoy. We would be satisfied with so much less.
In the days and months and years that follow, I believe that being happy with less will be a lesson we will all have to learn. But we should not be sad or dejected. This will be a great lesson since we have so much, too much. We will learn to be satisfied with much less.
Five years ago this week, Pope Francis issued his second encyclical — Laudato Si’. Its subtitle is “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, the Holy Father asks hard questions about consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming. He calls all people to take “swift and unified global action.” He invites us to live with less, to be happy with less, to stop mistreating the earth, to respect the creation that God has given to us. Perhaps this is the moment to take more seriously Pope Francis’ encyclical. This global pandemic is an invitation to take seriously the changes that Laudato Sí’ asks of us.
In speaking about this global pandemic, Father Cantalamessa asked, “When, in human memory, have the people of all nations ever felt themselves so united, so equal, so less in conflict than at this moment of pain? We have forgotten about building walls. The virus knows no borders. In an instant it has broken down all the barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth, and power.”
If we learn to live with less, if we learn to live not over the top, there could be a lot more to share with others who have less. Perhaps the virus can help us, in a most unusual way, to build up the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that knows no divisions and is all-inclusive. The world is desperately in need of that kingdom, perhaps now more than ever before.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Father Joe Corpora works in the Alliance for Catholic Education and Campus Ministry, and is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy. He has written two books of reflections on this experience, The Relentless Mercy of God and Being Mercy: The Path to Being Fully Alive, both published by Corby Books.