RELIGION AND THE PANDEMIC-Repeatedly, health officials, scientists and medical experts plead with us that to slow down the spread of COVID-19 we must wear a face mask to stop droplets spewing from our mouth, and at times nose, when we speak, cough, sneeze.
These droplets, more than anything else, can contaminate someone with the coronavirus.
There is also evidence that a face mask protects the wearer from absorbing contaminated droplets. Indeed, for added protection I wear two face masks when I go out in public.
Wearing a face mask during this pandemic is rooted in basic kindness and respect of others, practiced by people of all religions, and those who are not religious. They are doing good. But also, for me as a Catholic/Christian, it adheres to the teaching of Jesus.
Some find comfort in Jesus’ teachings, and to a point I do, but I also see these teachings as very difficult, leading not to comfort, but to great challenges for me to follow, and moments doubting if I am successful.
I will not quote scripture and verse because in our great, diverse nation not everyone is Christian, so the quotes would be meaningless.
In his ministry, Jesus taught through directives and parables, and both are effective. (As if I am to question what Jesus said.)
One of his teachings is how to love one another. From Jesus: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This is not hard. Love others -- your friends, neighbors, work associates, fellow churchgoers.
Then, Jesus gives a command which at times is difficult: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . .”
So I wear a mask to protect others, and while I may not hate them, I am trying to protect others who give me little or no comfort.
This means conservatives who ignore the threat bearing down on us with unrelenting force -- global warming. And conservatives who give tax breaks to those who do not need them, and then try to cut social services for those in need. Conservatives who will not entertain the arguments that the 2nd Amendment and the right to carry arms, guns, pertains more to the militia, military, and not so much the individual. Yes, I wear my masks to protect you from COVID-19.
I wear my masks for those who refuse to wear one themselves to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Los Angeles is a city of great diversity, but there are, and will always be, those who hate others. I wear my masks for those who will not accept others because of the color of their skin, or race, or religion, or because they are immigrants.
Diverse Los Angeles allows sports fans from throughout the nation to wear, without hassle, sports clothing of teams from other cities. I wear my masks for these, even for those wearing the sports logos of the arch rivals: the San Francisco Giants, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros who cheated the Dodgers out of a World Series win, and even the Boston Celtics. This last one is difficult, but I wear my masks for you.
There are Christians who refuse to wear a mask because they feel it is an infringement of their beliefs. Jesus, when confronted by his enemies on the responsibility of paying taxes and acknowledging secular power and authority spoke, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” This separation of the worldly and heavenly is clear.
Wearing a face mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 is not an infringement by government on the practice of Christianity; no one is banning Christianity. This is an order from a secular government to protect the lives of others and protecting the lives of others is a very Christian act.
I have not attended Mass at a church since the stay-at-home orders were issued. Do I miss it? Yes, but Jesus seems more intent on our actions on this earth than on our attending religious services. Personally, Jesus, a Jew, seems to have had conflicted experiences with attending temple.
Jesus began his public service when he announced in a temple his presence, declaring that he was the fulfillment of the prophecies proclaiming the Messiah of the Ancient Scriptures of the Jewish People, the Old Testament. When they heard Jesus say this, the people were so incensed that they ran him out of the temple, nearly off a nearby cliff.
Later, Jesus exploded into anger when he violently confronted the money lenders and merchants doing business in God’s home, the temple.
Jesus was accused of blasphemy at the temple, which led to his crucifixion.
When asked how to pray, Jesus gave us the “Our Father,” and then said to pray you do not go to the temple, but go into your room, close the windows and doors, and pray silently. I am not saying do not attend services when there is no health order prohibiting it, but Jesus does not seem to be intent that we must attend temple or church.
When attending service to pray, Jesus told the parable of two men praying in a temple. One was up front near the altar so he could be seen by others, and with demonstrative motions told God how good he is, how often he prayed, and how much money he gave to charity. Then there was another man in the back of the temple, who, with head bowed quietly, prayed to God to forgive him of his sins. Jesus, I believe, holds the quiet man in higher regard and closer to God than the demonstrative man.
To me, Jesus’ teachings are more concerned about our individual behaviors toward our love for God, and for one another, including loving one’s enemies, than in strict attendance at temple, or Mass, or service.
To me, to be a Christian I need to love God, and love not only one another, but also my enemies first and foremost. This means wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 now and in the future. I will worry about attending church later, whenever that is possible.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and former member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra. He is a CityWatch contributor.)Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.