One of the cruellest aspects of the Coronavirus pandemic seems to be that, at a time when the consolation of human contact is needed by so many more than ever, it is the very thing that we are asked to forego. What form can love take when deprived of its touch, its immediacy, its flesh and bones? How do I still respond compassionately and humanely to the needs of others around me, even though physically separated from them?
These are big questions that might challenge each of us in different ways. Of course, love takes many and varied forms depending on the concrete circumstances in which it finds itself. For Ignatius of Loyola, love was primarily about action and ought to express itself in deeds rather than words. A better question in that case might be: what is the most loving thing to do in the reality of the here and now, within the limits of what is possible? As Gerry W. Hughes SJ once wrote, ‘God is in the facts’, and so however unwelcome or unchosen the facts of our life and experience are now, how we respond to them is within our grasp.
It may be challenging to discover that the most loving course of action for us at the moment is to protect our own health and bodies – particularly if we fall into an ‘at risk’ category – or to separate ourselves and our families physically from our community and those we most love in order to slow the spread of disease. Such actions demand self-denial and, even, loving self-sacrifice. It can feel profoundly disempowering and go against the grain of our natural desire to help and be of use to others. Such experiences of what we might call ‘passion’ – in the sense of feeling ‘passive’, being ‘done unto’ rather than doing – can nevertheless be loving if entered into intentionally.