German and Austrian bishops have insisted that the coronavirus is “not God’s punishment” but instead an “invitation to think” to the world.
– Bishop of Hildesheim: the idea of a punishing God, “terrible and completely un-Christian”
The idea of a punishing God is “terrible and also completely un-Christian”, Bishop of Hildesheim in Germany, Heiner Wilmer, affirmed for his part in a March 30 interview with the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper.
“The [coronavirus] crisis is not a punishment from God”, Wilmer clarified.
He added that even though his personal faith had not been turned upside-down by the pandemic, “nevertheless this crisis shakes me and shows me: God is still completely different than the one you had imagined”.
– “The Mass is very important, but now: speak with God!”
In his interview with the newspaper, Wilmer encouraged Catholics to make the most of the COVID-19 outbreak to rethink such basics taken for granted in their practice of the faith as access to the sacraments – now postponed in Germany, as in other countries around the world also under lockdown – and their idea of God.
“Now the great question posed by Martin Luther comes back again: how do I get a merciful God? Not somehow mediated by the Church, but, rather, very directly, in an immediate contact”, the Bishop of Hildesheim reflected.
For the prelate, the answer to Luther’s question posed anew in COVID-19 times must come in a return to the Bible and to the “house churches” of early Christianity.
“The celebration of the Mass, the Eucharist, is very important”, Wilmer encouraged Catholics.
“But now, sit down! Read the Bible! Discuss it with two or three people, via tele conference, via Skype, whatever! But most of all: speak with God!”.
– “Church reforms are necessary, but not sufficient”
As for the lessons the Church can learn from the COVID-19 drama, Wilmer was clear: priests and bishops must use the crisis to return to the idea of “Jesus as healer” and draw “close to people”.
“The greatest catastrophe would be if we were to seclude ourselves and if we did not see the other anymore”, the bishop explained, adding that now more than ever it’s important to show “the Church is there not for herself, but for society”.
“Reforms are necessary, but not sufficient”, Wilmer further said with regard to the long-term future of the Church after the pandemic.
“We need more. We have a Church crisis, but also a crisis of faith, in the sense that it is not clear to us how the relationship between man and God – the great, unfathomable mystery – works”.
Another German bishop to warn against seeing in the coronavirus a punishment from God has been Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising and former president of the German Bishops’ Conference.
On the question of whether COVID-19 as God’s wrath, Marx recently said: “the further question would immediately arise: why is this a punishment and for whom?”
By seeing God’s hand in the pandemic, “we would come to a very difficult and negative image of God”, the cardinal cautioned.
“No. God loves us and accepts us, that’s the message of Jesus.
“Of course we ask ourselves: How do we relate to God in the face of illness, death, disaster and misfortune and what does this do to our faith?
“We ultimately have no answer as to why we suffer. We are creatures, we are finite, we are mortal. As Christians we say: there is hope. Hope in the God who has let himself suffer and die. That is the message that is important right now”.
Yet another prelate insisting that the coronavirus is not God’s “retaliation” has been Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who in a newspaper column April 3 urged Catholics to bring a “sober look” to the pandemic and to remember “plagues have always existed, they are part of nature”.
“Thanks to medical research and development, epidemics can be defeated today. We all hope that the same can be done with the coronavirus. God has given us reason and will to deal with nature’s challenges well”, the cardinal wrote.
“Then I ask myself another question”, Schönborn added: “Does God want to tell us something through the coronavirus?”
“I don’t think the coronavirus is a punishment from God. I can’t imagine God like that”, the cardinal admitted.
“But I firmly believe that God knocks on our door through crises and invites us to think. That’s how I experienced my own illnesses last year”, the Vienna arcbishop wrote, in a reference to his suffering prostate cancer along with a lung infarction.
“Easter is coming soon, God’s great yes to life. So I think it will be good!”, Schönborn concluded.
– Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis
By firmly rejecting the idea – advanced in recent days by Church ultraconservatives – that the coronavirus is not God’s punishment, Wilmer, Marx and Schönborn are following closely in the footsteps of Pope Francis.
In last Friday’s ‘extraordinary’ Urbi et orbi blessing in a St. Peter’s Square closed to the public because of Italy and the Vatican’s strict coronavirus lockdowns, the pontiff insisted that the “storm” of COVID-19 “is not the time of [God’s] judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not”.
The pandemic “is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others”, Pope Francis reflected on that occasion.