By Fr. Daniel Pinell
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” Matthew 22: 37-40.
The wearing of masks in public spaces has become a hotly politicized issue. I have seen Christians not wearing masks because it infringes on their personal rights. They believe it to be a constitutional matter, and some don’t wear it out of principle. I have even heard some say that if others are susceptible to the virus they should simply stay home, and that they are under no obligations to wear masks for other people’s sense of security.
If you don’t want to wear a mask because of freedom and individual rights, I want to emphasize that the freedom we enjoy also comes with great responsibilities. Moreover, for us Christians, the love of others must be at the center of our ethics. Freedom, for the Christian, must therefore be expressed within the lenses of the love of others. One doesn’t know if one is an asymptomatic carrier of the COVID-19 virus, and unwittingly infecting others who might be more vulnerable such as essential workers who must work to keep the economy moving and to provide for themselves and their families.
Also, there are many healthy-looking individuals who are unaware of preexisting conditions! Calling on those who feel “vulnerable” to simply stay at home so you can exercise your freedom and right to not wear a mask misses this fact. Freedom and individual rights are good things, but they are not to be made idols. The Gospel calls us to so much more!
I’ve also noticed that we tend to view this issue in a strictly individualistic sense, with little or no thought to how our expression of our personal rights might affect our communities. Unfortunately, the consequences of contributing to an exponential growth of this virus would affect not only our personal health, but those in our communities. The more people are infected, the more easily community spreads develops. The more community spread the more difficult it is to protect vulnerable populations from exposure and the more ICU beds are occupied. Filled hospitals put a strain on our healthcare system, which diminishes the quality of care, which will translate in more deaths. Our individual actions have communal consequences, and these consequences can’t always be prevented from affecting others.
As Christians, our first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. Loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls means putting God above everything else, including our personal rights and our love of nation. Refusing to put God first will prevent us from the second great commandment: loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Love calls us to sacrifice. Wearing a mask and socially distancing seem, in the great scale of things, like a really small one.