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Peters: Panic contradicts the virtues; stand up to it and quell fear

Under normal circumstances, I would write about the coming of Easter, the importance of renewing our faith, and the need to dedicate our lives to a better world. However, these are not normal circumstances.

The illness known as COVID-19 is devastating. Even one death is horrible, and there have been many. But the devastation is one that affects the mind just as much as the body.

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We are taught that there are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Faith is belief in the Lord and his teachings, hope is accepting that things will be better, and love is acting for the betterment of others. Although they are different, they are all three parts of one whole.

Unfortunately, today’s world is beset by fear, the contradiction of faith, and panic, the contradiction of hope. As panic spreads, people attack anyone who shows a hint of optimism as if optimism is harmful. In truth, panic causes the greatest harm..

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Not only does panic contradict the virtues, it also goes against the Catechism’s teachings on the Eighth Commandment, which says on speech: “The proper exercise of this right demands that the content of the communication be true and — within the limits set by justice and charity — complete.”

This two-fold standard means that communication should not harm, and there are few things worse than spreading panic. But the Catechism goes further to say, “The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown.”

In essence, we must check everything before sharing to see if it is true and right for us to share. Just as panic-inducing lies are wrong, misleading information designed to take advantage of people’s hope is also wrong. Thus, false claims that Fr. Berardelli gave up his ventilator before dying or that Saint Corona was the patron saint of epidemics do far more evil than they could ever be suggested to have done good.

When hope is false and panic is ever present, we succumb to a type of sloth that makes us unable to love others, a situation that Pope Francis recently described as affecting a man Jesus heals in John 5. In his March 24 homily, he said, “in his heart, he was sick in his soul, he was ill with pessimism, sick with sadness, he was sick with sloth.”

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The problem, as the pope continued, is that "the sin of sadness is the seed of the devil, that inability to make a decision about one's own life… It makes me think about so many of us, so many Christians who live in this state of sloth, unable to do anything but complain about everything.”

It is our duty to stand up against panic, to quell fear, and to act when others refuse to act. We must be vigilant in what is being said, be optimistic for a quick recovery, and we should not complain about the actions of others. Acting in this way is how we can best prepare for the coming Easter.

Jeffrey Peters, a graduate of Catholic University with a doctorate, attends St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester. Reach him at 17peters@cardinalmail.cua.edu.

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