As we continue to journey through our personal Mordor - otherwise known as living through COVID-19, there remain intriguing parallels of this virus that apply to the spiritual realm.
Before we can comprehend the spiritual connections morphed into the coronavirus lifestyle we first need to back up to get a clear picture of how the physical and spiritual dimension remain intertwined in creation.
The Church teaches that a human person exists as a body and spirit composite (CCC 2516, 362-367) also referred to as a body and soul combination. These two aspects of body and soul within a human person work as a related link in how they operate in both the physical and spiritual realms. So, what we know about and experience with the body we can relate in understanding the soul.
The idea that a person is made with the two dimensions of body and soul is illuminated in Genesis. Here, we see clues of how God made man. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
The dust of the ground represents that material (body) dimension, and the breath of life represents the immaterial (soul) element. The soul is a reference to God's spirit which dwells in man. Notice in Genesis that man did not become a "living being" until he received God's spirit breathed into him. This spiritual component is what makes man "in the image and likeness of God."
What is the soul? The Catechism refers to the soul as the "innermost aspect of man." The soul is that which governs the choice and actions of the body. In a more concrete sense, the soul is the full system of what is driving your internal thoughts.
Our thoughts remain hidden from scientific analysis. A brain scientist can examine you all he wants, but he would never know your thoughts. While our thoughts remain elusive from scientific examination, we recognize who a person is by their internal thoughts more so than describing their physical appearance. Now, if we are honest, we all acknowledge that our soul is flawed. One way to test this is to ask a group of people, how many of them would be comfortable if everyone knew their thoughts? Chances are, no one would raise their hand in approval of this scenario.
The Biblical reason why our thoughts are flawed is because of human sin. Typically, people have heard the word "sin" so many times and in the wrong context, they generally become annoyed by hearing that word. However, given the interconnection of the body and soul, the word "sin" is analogous to a sickness within the body. In fact, Jesus alludes to the comparison of body-sickness to soul-sin when he said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).
Therefore, what a virus such as COVID-19 does to the body, sin does to the human soul - it ruins it.
Still, our next question remains - what is sin? The Catechism states, "Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain good" (CCC 1849).
Sin gets at the root of the human person - by disrupting their thoughts, and, in turn, one's actions. As the Catechism goes on to articulate, "Sin is a deed [action], or a desire [thought] contrary to the eternal law" (CCC 1871).
In short, sin is divorcing oneself from God. It is a removal of yourself from God so you can become your own god. "A revolt against God through the will to become 'like gods,' knowing and determining good and evil" (CCC 1850).
What does sin do? It turns us away from our very source of life, creation, and existence. Bluntly put, sin leads to death of the soul - that God-breathed essence within us.
Sin takes the real you away and makes you a wretched version of the person you were meant to be. The more you sin, the more you disfigure the God-breathed image and likeness within you (CCC 705). In sin, you become a fake version of yourself. You become like the rust on a car. The rust is an eating away of the good, natural version of that created being.
In the story, Lord of The Rings J.R.R Tolkien displays the destructive nature of sin symbolically as the ring. The devastation of sin is most clearly seen in the character of Gollum. When you look at Gollum, you can view the decaying power of sin. Because of the ring (i.e., sin) the once healthy, authentic hobbit named Smeagol vanishes and becomes a pathetic parity of himself in the character of Gollum.
The ultimate end game of sin is death. As Paul says, "the wages of sin is death" and that "sin reigns in death" (Romans 6:23, 5:21, 5:12)
Therefore, what a deadly disease does to the body, sin does to the soul - it slowly kills it. The death trap of sin might seem like a slow, grinding process. But it is also incredibly efficient in its methodical strangling of the soul.
In the ideal setting of a human soul, the intellect is sharp and in control. The actions of the person (the will) are working off the intellect while the passions stand behind the will. However, original sin clouds the human intellect and gives man a desire for his overzealous passions to rule over his intellect and will. Sin allows passion to be in the driver seat ahead of the intellect all the while controlling the will. This reversal of man in his original state creates a scenario where the passions cause the will to constantly make bad habits (vices). Here, one's intellect becomes obscured even more and the person's conscience in which they decide between good and evil becomes corrupted (CCC 1865). Even though sin harms the conscience, one's conscience can't be fully muted. However, sin creates a situation in which deep within your internal compass you may know what the right thing to do is but habitually fail to do it (see James 4:17). This process of sin breaks down the human soul in a sad, repetitive self-implosion.
Let's come back to the parallels to the coronavirus and sin. A virus, such as COVID-19 acts as an agent that destroys the healthy functionality of a biological system. It affects multiple parts of the body - the respiratory system, immune system, digestive system, and the cognitive faculty. With coronavirus your appetite is off, your breathing doesn't work well, your thinking is weak and many other areas are negatively impacted.
In a similar vein, sin negatively alters the healthy functioning of what Paul refers to as the mystical body - the Church.
Much like a virus disrupts the functionality of a human body, sin harms the unity of those in the mystical body of Christ. Paul metaphorically describes the faithful in the Church as analogous to the different functions of the human body (see 1 Cor. 12: 12-21). He went on to make the correlation that the harmony within the body are interconnected in which "if one suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12: 25-26). Just like in a human body if a virus breaks out, all parts of the body are negatively affected so too every sin harms the interconnection within the Church.
Therefore, sin threatens church unity and communion (CCC 814, 1440) much like this virus and resulting isolation has caused tensions in families, communities, and individual lives. In other words, just like sin causes heresies and scandals in the Church so too does this virus cause friction within human relationships.
Within the world itself, sin wounds human solidarity. As a result, people experience hostility towards one another (CCC 1872). Here, love of neighbor is ruptured. In this setting, we don't care much about willing the good of the other - now we prefer to please the desires of the self.
Not only does sin destroy how others relate to each other, but it flips our understanding of whom we want to honor and please. Instead of men being in reverence with God, people now have an unhealthy attachment to what others think (see CCC 761, 1472).
The other tidbit we know about COVID-19 is it's incredibly contagious in passing from one person to the next. Much like this virus, sin spreads like wildfire. If we were to go back in the salvation story to see where we first contracted the virus of sin, we'd see that Eden was for sin what Wuhan is for COVID-19. St. Paul announces that the first man who contracted sin passed it on to others like an infectious disease.
"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19).
To combat the coronavirus we've had to put our trust in obeying medical experts in their recommendation to avoid certain risks while understanding how to protect ourselves. Much in the same way, if we put our faith towards God, he delivers us helpful messages on what we need to do to avoid the sin-virus.
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Peter 2:11-12).
"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person" (Matthew 15:19-20).
The similarities of these viruses also communicate that we must go to great lengths to elude them. When it comes to COVID, we attempt to separate ourselves from it by "social distancing." In the spiritual world, Paul warns us to practice "sin distancing" by withdrawing ourselves from harmful activities and those who habitually sin (see Gal. 5:19-21, 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Once someone has coronavirus symptoms, they immediately contact their doctor. No doctor seems to have the power to remove this virus quickly and easily, but notice our need for any qualified doctor the second we get flu-like symptoms.
If the sin-virus has run amok on the human soul, finding the doctor that has the cure for this deadly disease is of the utmost importance. The divine doctor that has this power to combat the sin-virus is none other than Jesus. If Jesus has the power to rise from the dead, as even secular historians acknowledge he did, then he certainly holds sway in eradicating sin.
As John announced, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29, see also John 8:34-36, 1 John 2:1-2).
In Protestantism, Jesus is presented as the cure, but there remains a vagueness as to how he cures the sin-virus and what we need to do. However, in Catholicism, Jesus gets specific in how he extracts out the sin-virus and where we must go. There are a variety of tactics he uses in eliminating sin. Jesus cures our sin-virus by his power to forgive sins (see Mark 2: 7-10, Luke 5:24). He then later passes on this skill to his priests by giving them the ability to bind and loose sins in the Sacrament of Confession (see Matthew 16:19-19, 18:18, John 20:22-23, James 5: 14-16). Given this set-up, today's priest can emulate the medicine of the divine doctor.
Just like medical doctors recommend washing hands with soap and water, Jesus as well uses water in removing the sin-virus through baptism (see Mark 16:16, Acts 2: 38, 1 Peter 3:21, John 3: 5, 22-23).
With COVID there remain other things we can do to squash the spread - wear masks, wash hands, and wipe down surfaces. St. Paul as well instructs us with helpful hints that will slow the spread of sin. Some of his instructions include to put on the full armor of God, to uproot sin by holding to the truth, the faith, prayer, self-denial and holiness of life (see Ephesians 6: 10-20, CCC 943).
All of these measures are helpful. But, if Jesus is the divine doctor as he suggested when he said he came for the sick much like a doctor, that would mean he would have the sure-fire medicine that would treat the sin-virus. This mighty medicine is, of course, the Eucharist. Because the Eucharist contains Jesus' body in it, it has the strength to annihilate the sin-virus when a patient receives it in the proper state.
Some helpful verses that show us.
"Jesus took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take eat, this is my body.' And he took the chalice, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:26-27)
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. . . Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life . . . for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed . . he who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6: 51-58)
These references of eating his flesh described as bread in which one lives forever and does not die sounds like a miracle drug that eliminates the deadly effects of sin.
Yes, these are uncertain times and many people are becoming frightened about the coronavirus. But, let's put this virus in context - it only affects the body. Recall the human person consists of a body and soul. Our bodies one day will die. But, our soul will live on forever long after the body has decayed.
"Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10: 28).
Corona can't destroy your soul - but sin can. And since the soul is more important than the body, we should probably take sin even more seriously and cautiously than the coronavirus.
In most parishes even today, the sin-doctor is still in. He remains on call. While he may need to be creative to meet you for an appointment, he'll be waiting for you in the confessional to give you the cure.