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Denver Newsroom, May 14, 2020 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- Although some people have raised objections to wearing masks as the U.S. continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, doing so can be an act of charity for one’s neighbor, a Catholic doctor said.
“The simple reason [to wear a mask] is primarily to protect others, the secondary reason is to protect oneself. Masks are a barrier to the airborne droplets that can carry the virus and infect anyone who breathes them in,” said Dr. Barbara Golder, a physician, lawyer and bioethicist with a background in pathology.
Golder told CNA that wearing a mask while in public is “a small thing to do, and it may well save lives.”
The United States has seen more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with more than 82,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Most people who contract the highly contagious virus show mild or no symptoms, but in some cases, it can result in severe complications or death, particularly for those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions.
With much of the country under quarantine restrictions in recent weeks to slow the spread of the virus, the question of when and how to reopen continues to be a source of controversy.
Public health officials have advised wearing masks in public, in order to reduce the risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus through droplets emitted from one’s mouth when speaking, coughing or sneezing. Many individuals who are infected with the virus do not develop symptoms, meaning that even people who do not feel sick could spread the virus to others.
Based on this federal guidance, many local authorities have issued regulations recommending or requiring that people wear masks in public settings.
These regulations have received a mixed response. Some critics argue that the mandatory regulations – and the fines and other punishments that accompany them – in some states are too harsh, infringing upon essential freedoms. Others worry that the use of masks may be ineffective or even harmful, claims which public health experts dispute.
Others have criticized the wearing of masks as a sign of weakness.
R. R. Reno, editor of the Catholic journal First Things, has been outspoken in his criticism of quarantine measures enacted in New York and other parts of the country. In a series of tweets this week – which were later deleted – Reno encouraged people to eschew masks, which he described as caving to a culture of fear.
“Masks=enforced cowardice,” Reno said in one tweet.
“The mask culture if (sic) fear driven,” he said in another, adding, “It’s a regime dominate (sic) by fear of infection and fear of causing of infection. Both are species of cowardice.”
However, Dr. Golder objected to the claim that following the guidance of public health officials is succumbing to fear or weakness.
“It isn’t fear to exercise prudent care for ourselves and others,” she told CNA. “This is a serious situation…When 60% of the population falls into a risk group because of age or an underlying medical condition such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease, it’s prudent to try to avoid infection.”
Golder acknowledged that conflicting advice early in the pandemic may be confusing, but explained that federal guidance has changed as scientists have learned more about the new virus and how it is spread.
“We now know that it is communicable by aerosol droplets that are expelled by coughing, sneezing, and even, to a certain extent, by breathing,” she said. “We also know that this happens even in patients who are infected and shedding virus but who do not have symptoms.”
For this reason, masks – along with social distancing – are an important tool in fighting the spread of the disease, she said.
“Wearing a mask limits the possibility of dispersing infective particles in the air, as well as reducing the risk of inhaling them,” she said.
Golder noted that small children, those who have breathing difficulties, and those who are physically unable to put on a mask need not wear one, but added that they may want to significantly limit contact with others.
But for most Americans, she said, “wearing a mask is a way of exercising our care for the other, who could be harmed if we do not.”
Leah Libresco Sargeant, author of “Building the Benedict Option,” echoed the idea that wearing a mask is a way of showing love for one’s neighbors.
“It’s much more a question of care than of fear,” she told CNA.
While masks may be somewhat uncomfortable, they are a small inconvenience that can be embraced out of charity for others, Sargeant suggested.
“Mask wearing is a small, humdrum discipline. It’s harder to romanticize than a big gesture,” she said.
“Think about the difference between going on a big pilgrimage and keeping up a habit of daily prayer, including in times of spiritual dryness. We have to do it out of love—there’s no other way to sustain the dull parts of caring for others.”
Dr. Golder acknowledged there are legitimate concerns about government overreach with some of the mandates surrounding masks and other pandemic limitations.
“[I]t’s absolutely true that there has been some overreach of government officials in imposing restrictions in various places,” she said.
“There is a real possibility of infringement of our constitutional rights and those charged with protecting our rights are hard at work to prevent that,” she added, pointing to court rulings blocking some of these regulations as signs that the American system is working.
But ultimately, Golder said, Catholics may want to consider the question of public health not solely from a perspective of rights, but from the viewpoint of service and friendship to which Christ calls us.
“God as man never once asserted his many ‘rights’ against us, maintaining to the last his role as servant and friend,” she said. “I think that might be the model here—How do I as friend and servant act in the presence of others? Wearing a mask might be a good start these days.”
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Washington D.C., May 23, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Elise Amez-Droz’s journey to the Catholic Church began in a place well known for religious fervor, but not exactly known for Catholicism: Salt Lake City, Utah.
While at a conference in Salt Lake City, Amez-Droz, 24, met someone who was converting to Catholicism, which surprised her, she said. A native of Switzerland, Amez-Droz said the only Catholics she knew in her home country were not very devout.
“I was shocked that, clearly, he loved Christ, and I could see it,” she said. “But it just puzzled me that he was joining what I thought was a dead faith.”
Amez-Droz was raised an Evangelical Christian, and said that in her youth she had no thoughts of leaving her childhood faith.
But in gradute school, she struggled.
“I started really wondering about the purpose of life. It was a really rough time for me,” said Amez-Droz. She started to feel as though her life was suddenly without purpose, she said.
In Salt Lake City, she decided to join her new friend for Mass – the first Catholic Mass she had ever attended.
“My first thought was ‘well, it’s not as heretical as I thought it was [going to be],’” she said.
She kept in touch with her friend, and asked him questions about converting and why he was becoming Catholic. After she moved to Washington, DC, she made many Catholic friends, and noticed “how good all these people were,” and that they practiced virtue, “without having an incentive to do it.”
She initially found their virtue “annoying,” and was “really struggling” with how nice her new friends seemed to be.
Still, she decided to learn more about the Catholic faith. In 2018, she entered RCIA. But before committing to an RCIA program, she checked out RCIA at several different parishes in the Washington, DC area.
“I was like, ‘this is a long process. I’m signing up for something that’s going to last seven, eight months,’” she said, describing her relatively unusual approach to RCIA.
“I wanted to make sure I could connect well with the leader of it and that I was going to be learning the true doctrine of the Church,” she added.
After a few weeks, she narrowed it down to two parishes, before deciding on St. Peter’s in Washington, DC. She said she was intrigued by the Dominican friars who taught RCIA at the parish.
Amez-Droz also appreciated the approach the parish took to RCIA, which was to include past participants who had already been received into the Church.
“I knew every Tuesday night that there would be a group of people who were going to be there every time,” said Amez-Droz. “That really made a big difference for me, because it showed me that people were still learning and they wanted to do that journey with us.”
Still, even though she had put in that much effort to find the right RCIA fit, Amez-Droz still was not entirely sold on entering the Church until just a few months before Easter Vigil.
She told CNA that she was convinced after a period of intense study and reading.
“It became more clear to me that I could never go back to my Protestant faith, just having read too much history,” she said. She also was particularly taken by Augustine’s “Confessions,” and she was intrigued by “The Benedict Option.”
“I thought [The Benedict Option] was really interesting. I think it really warmed me up to tradition, considering what community life looks like,” she said. Another huge influence on her conversion was Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body For Beginners.”
“That theology made so much sense,” she said. “I was like, this is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard, and it’s from a pope. So that’s what made me think.”
One of the biggest ideological hurdles for Amez-Droz was accepting the authority of the Church. Once she did, however, it was relatively smooth sailing from there.
“As a convert, it comes down to ‘do I accept the authority of the Church?’ If I do, then everything else is true,” she said, and one must embrace the Church’s teachings.
Amez-Droz chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her confirmation saint, after first learning about her at a retreat.
She told CNA that she appreciated that St. Therese “emphasizes being great by being small,” and that she admired her humility. She also found it interesting that St. Therese died at age 24, the same age Amez-Droz would be when she entered the Church.
Additionally, Amez-Droz spoke French as her first language, the same as St. Therese.
The Eucharist was another major factor for Amez-Droz, and was the reason she decided to stick with Catholicism even amid the “summer of scandal” that plagued the Church.
She also said that she appreciated that the Catholics she knew were open and willing to discuss the scandals, particularly those concerning former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.
“It helped me understand how Catholics were taking it,” said Amez-Droz. “It’s true that every time I would hear ‘but where else would we go? The Eucharist is only in this Church,’ and I thought that was true.”
She explained that the scandals themselves did not impact her decision to join the Church, but did help her discern where to attend RCIA.
“I don’t expect the Church to be perfect going forward, either. Ultimately, it didn’t really affect my decision,” she said.
“I think the biggest impact it had for me was choosing an RCIA, because I wanted to make sure the priest wasn’t involved with scandals himself.”
Amez-Droz received the Eucharist for the first time on April 21, 2019 at the Easter Vigil.
She almost immediately broke down in tears.
She explained to CNA that she had spent the day with her best friend, and watched “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, she said, made her feel as though she was “totally not worthy” of receiving communion.
“At the Easter Vigil, I was really happy and I was super-excited to get confirmed, but when it came to communion, it was like ‘this is what it’s all about,’” she said.
“I was just overwhelmed that I could share in God’s very person in such a close way, even though I’m totally unworthy,” she said.
While she has only been a confirmed Catholic for a few weeks, Amez-Droz told CNA that she feels entirely supported by her parish, and that she is fond of the structure provided by Mass, and the requirement that Catholics attend Mass each Sunday.
“There’s so many ways that Christ exposes himself to you in life. It’s not like you finding him, it’s like ‘this is part of your schedule,”” she said.
“It’s making me a lot closer to God.”
This story is part of “The New Catholics Project,” a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith. Look for additional profiles to come.
R. Jared Staudt is Director of Formation for the Archdiocese of Denver and teaches at the Augustine Institute. He holds a PhD in systematic theology from Ave Maria University, is a Benedictine oblate, and has […]