Being Mercy: The Air We Share

Author: Father Joseph V. Corpora, CSC, ’76, ’83M.Div.

Pr 9 Photo by Peter Ringenberg

The weather here in South Bend has been spectacular, perfect for bike rides. On a recent ride, while biking up Notre Dame Avenue, I got a flat.

Later that day I took my bike to a shop to get the flat fixed. The clerk apologized several times that the tube I needed was not in stock. “They are all on back order from China,” he said. He went on to explain, “China was shut down January, February and March because of the virus, and they are just now starting to catch up on back orders.” He invited me to call back in a week to see if the correct size tube had arrived. I thanked him.

I do believe, as so many have said, “All things are connected.” While driving back to campus, however, this thought hit me in a different way. Our feelings about trade with China do not really matter. Thousands of bike shops across the country import parts from China. And the tube for my bike is one of those parts! All things are connected.

We continue to learn from this pandemic that we have been living through for many months and, most likely, will continue living through and learning from for more months to come. If bike parts from China connect to repair shops in South Bend, we are so aware that all things are connected.

But more even than things like bike parts, we human beings are all connected. The pandemic is teaching us that too. Rich and poor, straight and gay, black and white and brown and every color, city dweller or rural dweller, world traveler or homebody. We all belong to each other. The coronavirus has struck everywhere. It has shown no respect for borders of any kind. It finds a home in every race, language, culture and way of life the world over.

We have to use this “opportunity” to recognize how connected we are and learn that, therefore, we have to care for one another. The people in Mishawaka might care for the people in South Bend because they are neighbors and they know that they need each other. The same is true for the people in Mexico City and the people in Tokyo. They are neighbors, to each other and to us, and we need each other. We are called to care for each other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we emerge from this pandemic with a desire to truly care for one another because we belong to each other, because we are all sisters and brothers, children of one God? Wouldn’t it be great if we emerge without feeling that those people over there do not belong to us, but are, in fact, part of us? I believe that God is giving us this unique opportunity, like never before, to recognize how deeply we are connected and that we must care for each other so that everyone has access to health care, so that everyone has enough to eat, so that everyone can earn a living wage and support their families.

I wrote previously that this time of quarantine — which has also been referred to as “the great pause” — has allowed us to stop and reflect on what matters most. I believe that when our students return to campus in August many will ask very different questions than they asked before the time of quarantine or lockdown. They will ask questions more about vocation than career; they will listen more to their hearts more than to what society has told them is important. The quarantine has invited us to look at our lives and to ask what we like and what we don’t like.

If this is true of us as individuals, it is also true of our country. The quarantine has allowed us to look at our society and to ask similar questions about what matters most and about what we like and what we do not like. How else to understand the protests that have taken place since the death of George Floyd? This is society looking at itself and saying, “We don’t like where we are. We have to change some things about who we are and how we live and how we treat one another.”

The protests are an expression of a society that looked at itself, saw so many injustices and inequalities and said, “No more. We have to change. We can’t go on like this.” In a similar way, this time of quarantine and lockdown has invited all the world to look at itself, to reflect on itself, and revealed so many injustices and inequalities.

Over the past several days I have listened to daily Mass homilies from preachers in New Zealand and in France. Both preachers refer to George Floyd. His name has become synonymous with a movement born from quarantine. The world is listening to its heart, not just to how things have always been. God has given us an opportunity to change, to do things differently, not just to continue with business as usual.

If a bike riding down Notre Dame Avenue on a sunny day and a bike part in China are connected, think how much more each one of us is connected to every other person, all of us made in the image and likeness of God. May God bring us to the other side of this pandemic that much more convinced that we are all sisters and brothers — and truly live out that truth.

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 Aliveboth published by Corby Books. A third book, Doing Mercy, is scheduled to be published in November.