Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
March 26, 2020 — We were two hours into our 12-hour road trip when my husband Eric and I looked at each other and knew we had to go home.
Our family had planned this spring break trip to visit grandparents long before the word “coronavirus” entered our vocabulary. Then we’d watched as it slowly made its way across oceans to disrupt the lives of our friends in Seattle, New York City and Denver. But in the Midwest heartland, we had the luxury of time. Perhaps it would be contained. Perhaps it wouldn’t spread past the major metropolitan areas.
Of course, it gradually became obvious that quarantine would be inevitable. Our schools would eventually close and I would be home with our five kids indefinitely. With this reality looming in our future, I clung harder to spring break as a respite: one glorious week of cousin fun, before being cooped up indoors with five wild monkeys for who knows how long. (As much as I adore my children, there is a reason I am not a homeschooling mom in the first place.)
So, Eric and I loaded up the minivan and stubbornly started driving, a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the console ready to wipe down every surface that crossed our path. One hour passed, then two. I read new articles on my phone as Eric drove, pelting me with questions for the latest information. A few new cases had popped up and though none were in our county, our state was now confirming “community spread.” Gulp. The kicker came when I found out children can be asymptomatic.
We had five children in the car. They seemed healthy, but were they? We would be driving through four states; what if we were spreading COVID-19 across God’s green earth? And if not now, what if we did on the way home?
I’ve seen varied responses to this global pandemic among Christians. I’ve seen and heard from many who say “fear is not from God” and so go about their days as usual against the urging of the Centers for Disease Control. I have heard some prominent Catholics grieve the loss of the Mass more loudly than they grieve the deaths of their global neighbors. At first glance, these postures might seem spiritual or pious. But I don’t think they are actually the Christian response at all.
Saint Ignatius taught us to make important decisions based on what brings God the greatest glory through our lives. To this end, the Latin motto of Ignatian spirituality is Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, which means, “for the greater glory of God.” As I view this quarantine through such a lens, I have to ask myself, what response brings God greater glory?
I can disregard the CDC or World Health Organization recommendations based on the belief that God is with me — OR I can honor the life of my neighbor above my own: I can protect the frail, defend the vulnerable, keep safe the elderly. The first path has the appearance of piety, wherein I claim faith matters above all else. But the second path feels more like the way of Jesus, who urged us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It’s true that God can be glorified by our refusal of fear. But if we are called to seek the greater glory of God, I think the answer, in this case, is clear: the greater glory of God is in our awakening to the reality that we belong to each other and must protect each other. The greater glory of God is always found when we resolve to care for the least of these among us before caring for our own wills. Jesus reminds us that whatever we did for the least of these (the most vulnerable, most afraid, most at risk), we did for him.
As for my family, we ultimately decided to cancel the trip and go home. The kids were disappointed, and so were we, but there was an immediate peace that came with knowing we were doing the right thing.
Instead of frolicking in their grandparents' warm Southern backyard, my children will spend a cold, rainy spring break mostly within the walls of our home. Instead of relaxing a bit while others share the childcare workload, I will be the one primarily responsible for changing dirty diapers, feeding hungry mouths and cleaning up horrific messes. But even in the disappointment and the great unknown ahead, we will have peace in knowing we are choosing the greater glory of God: active love for our vulnerable neighbors.
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Shannon K. Evans is the author of Within Your Wounds, a Lenten devotional e-book designed to lead the reader into greater freedom through the Anima Christi and the wounds of Jesus. She lives with her husband and five children in central Iowa.