As I pen these words tens of thousands of human beings have perished due to the worldwide pandemic of the Coronavirus—over 25,000 in Italy alone. Hardly a corner of the globe has been left unaffected, with the United States leading the way in the number of confirmed cases, with over 46,000 dead. Our world is in a universal “lockdown,” with “social distancing” from one another the norm, “stay at home” the new learned behavior, and an unprecedented restriction on travel. Restaurants closed, businesses closed, schools closed and nearly every church in the world has its doors locked—and in some cases literally sealed with chains or police yellow caution tape! The parents of grown children who even live nearby have for weeks not seen these loved ones, as the closest of human relationships are now governed by panic, fear, anxiety, worry, depression, in a society descending into sense of desperation and even despair.
How might we understand this current scourge visited upon the planet? Might it be, when all is said and done, that the human race—ironically or paradoxically or otherwise—is simply living-out an ethic it has embraced for many decades, and continues to embrace even in the midst of the crisis? Today the world, and this is certainly the case with American culture, has embraced individualism as the primary social-ethical value. Even Cardinal Robert Sarah has called the pandemic “a parable” that reveals modern man’s great mistake, namely our refusal to be dependent. As he stated recently in the French journal Valeurs:
Modern man wants to be radically independent. He does not want to depend on the laws of nature. He refuses to be dependent on others by committing himself to definitive bonds such as marriage. It is humiliating to be dependent on God. He feels he owes nothing to anyone.
I will argue that in no other area of societal experience and practice is this independence more dominant than in a “woman’s right to choose.” The slogan “I have a right to do what I want with my own body” is the creed that exclaims this radical autonomy upon which the quest for self-determination rests. My own body—meaning my own self—is not in-relation to others, and only by such a self-proclaimed autonomy may I truly be who I am.
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