I listened to Andrew Cuomo Friday talk about the need to come back better, the need for transformation. “You pause. You reflect. You learn. You grow. You move forward.” He went on and on about the need to not waste this time. He hit on something I’ve been agonizing a lot about: How many of us are just waiting for this quarantine time to be over? We can’t simply be waiting out the time. Life has to be different. We have to change.
But this is the same Andrew Cuomo who, earlier in the week, celebrated things in New York going better than expected. He was insistent that God didn’t make things better, man’s hard work did. He said: “The number is down because we brought the number down.” And emphasized: “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that . . . That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
Can’t it be both? Can’t it be men, made by God, strengthened by them in their perseverance and humble service in the face of evil?
At his press conference Friday, Governor Cuomo asked rhetorically: “What have we learned during this heartbreak, during this crisis?”
My interactions with my kids had gotten so superficial…. Now I have time to sit with them and really have in-depth conversations that I hadn’t had in a long time…. I was missing a lot . . . . They have complex lives and complex feelings…. You don’t appreciate that [normally]…
Cuomo went on about how he had justified his superficial relationships by his busyness. Talking to his daughter for a few hours, he said, he realized that “there’s a whole person and life and nuance . . . that I had been oblivious to.” He talked about how he misses visiting his mother, and how he regrets all those visits he didn’t make. “What were you really busy with that didn’t matter?,” he said, as if leading a state or country or world in an examination of conscience.
But essential to doing an examination of conscience is seeing yourself as God sees you — as a beloved creature, who is a sinner. As helpful as his daily briefings may be, we are all weak human beings together. That’s actually part of what I find beautiful about some of Cuomo’s press conferences: There’s a humility he gets to, that he seems to be grappling with. Even while demonstrating that the state and the federal government are trying to work together and get moving forward as people are healed and lives are protected and saved, he has these moments where he is vulnerable — he seems to appreciate that he is no savior and that he shouldn’t even be thinking of practical political things, such as using this moment where he is on center stage for ousting Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
But when Cuomo says that God did not play a hand in people’s not dying in quite the rates that were feared, he misses a key reflective point. He talks about how everyone wants to be able to get out of their homes, get to work, find a job, they also don’t want to die, because “death is bad.” Now, while it’s his job to do what prudentially needs to be done for the sake of public health — a job he certainly seems to be taking seriously, for which I am grateful — he seems to be missing the invitations that he himself is issuing in his more pensive moments during his daily press conferences.
He sometimes reminds us that he was raised Catholic (as those of us raised on Mario Cuomo as our governor will never forget) and it’s hard to miss that this quarantine time has been happening during some of the holiest times of the year for some of us, Catholics included. Part of why we can’t miss that is because we didn’t go to church as we normally do for Mass on Easter. Holy Week happened without all the traditional gatherings — Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday service. Easter Vigils happened without congregants present. Ditto Easter morning. It was strange. It remains strange.
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday for Catholics. Mass and going to Confession is a big part of it. But, obviously, that’s not what the day will look like this year. The Divine Mercy shrine in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, won’t have the typical pious onslaught that it’s used to.
So, what do we do with that? Maybe in our anxiety and stir-crazy and fear, there’s an invitation to ask God why it is we are living as we are in this crisis. Maybe it’s an opportunity to ask Him how it is that He sees us and what it is that He wants to show us. Consider it’s a chance to be grateful for what we’ve been blessed with in life and let Him reprioritize things. Maybe that job was killing your soul. Your body, too? Your relationships? Your family? There are not easy answers, but isn’t that what this season is about? Understanding suffering as redemptive? If you are our older brothers in faith, literally you have been celebrating freedom from slavery.
When Andrew Cuomo declares that God has played no role in our successes and protection and healing, he is missing why we need those churches open. While somehow movie theaters and churches are getting lumped into the same category of phasing in public life again, we need the sacraments because we need grace, we need supernatural help. We’ve shown ourselves to be good citizens, but some of us feel like we are dying inside. Of course, that feeling may be a good sign. The real bad death is in triumphant declarations that God has no hand in our lives at our most vulnerable. We need him. He is near. And a lot of us give thanks to Him these Easter days, whether we can go to Mass or not. We would not be here without Him, and we never want to be without Him. And bodily death isn’t the worst that could happen.
As I look to the sunset and the singing birds for a little prompt to rejoice in gratitude for life even when I may not be feeling it, it’s hard to forget that God is quite the magnificent Giver. Maybe Andrew Cuomo can’t see because he’s stuck behind cameras, but I can’t even fathom that God didn’t do this. God so obviously does more than we can ever imagine, no matter what vaccine His creations come up with — and we pray they do, or ventilators they deliver.
God (continue to) help us and have mercy on us for our stubborn blindness.