Readers of a certain age will remember listening to or watching the adventures of the Lone Ranger who rode throughout the West fighting outlaws. He wore a mask—which I imagine was uncomfortable in the hot desert sun and probably restricted his vision. But it was what made him memorable and cool!
Today, we’re in the midst of new conversations about wearing masks of a different kind in an effort to combat the outlaw called COVID-19. I’ve thought that mask-wearing was over once I got the vaccine and I was resistant to even considering masking up again. But like the stories of the Lone Ranger, the COVID situation seems to be more like a serial adventure rather than a one-time tale. So for the past week or so I made sure to put my mask back on when I was indoors at stores or other locations.
No, it wasn’t required any more than the Lone Ranger was required to wear his mask. But I think it is as noble. Apparently those of us who are vaccinated can be carrying the virus even though we don’t have any symptoms. And we could be spreading it to the unvaccinated—especially children who can’t get the vaccine. I was as heartbroken as everyone else to have buried those who died from this disease and I don’t want to be even unknowingly responsible for infecting another person.
I have no idea whether there will be mask mandates in the weeks ahead, whether from the state, the diocese, the schools, the merchants, etc. But I suspect that there will be a number of people who will declare these mandates to be outrageous and an assault on our freedom. Not surprisingly for me, I turned to the Bible to get a perspective that might help.
Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone is willing to come after me: let him deny himself, and take up his cross every day and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What if we were to substitute the word “cross” with the word “mask”? Could we see that denying ourselves and wearing a mask to make things safer for our community is one way to live out this call from God to love our neighbor? There is nothing outrageous about the masked men, women and children fighting the dangers of the new variant of the virus. Indeed this is as noble as it is annoying. I can put up with annoying because I see my mask as a sign of care rather than as a sign of oppression.
Think of all the other noble things we’ve done that were just plain annoying: changing diapers, driving our kids to countless practices, games or other events, food shopping…the list can go on and on. True, we do these things out of necessity but we realize that as annoying as they are, these chores serve a bigger purpose than our own inconvenience.
Whether you choose to wear a mask or not, whether there will be new mandates or not I urge everyone to at least be civil about it. Declaring mask wearing to be some kind of “heinous oppression” is a sign of frustration that we haven’t gotten clear of this pandemic yet, and it is also one more effect the disease is having on our society and our own mental health. This disease can turn us against each other and spread a communal contamination that each of us can stop by being care-filled in how we speak or post.
—Father Ralph Sommer is the pastor of St. Bernard’s Church in Levittown and is an Anton Media Group columnist