I hate wearing masks. I really do. I wear glasses so, I have to continually pinch the bridge of my nose to keep my exhalation from fogging up my glasses, but I’ve been wearing a mask anytime I’ve been in a public space since February 22nd, without fail. I’ve slept on red-eye flights with my mask on, worked hard building a trade show booth, then stood for 12+ hours on an exhibition floor, walked for miles, and spent 2 weeks in a small RV after an exposure. I didn’t enjoy any of these, especially since I was away from my wife and daughter for almost a month between a trip and quarantine. So why do I do it? For me, the answer is simple: my faith and the world views it influences.
Countless experts continue to talk about the need for masks. The Mayo Clinic clearly states that masks shield the nose and mouth from others’ droplets, which is where the virus lives. It also prevents droplets from those potentially infected people. It’s simple, if we remove the barriers of entry from the disease, or at least reduce the risk of transmission, fewer people will get infected. The massive disinformation about masks running rampant is a symptom of more significant problems that exist, even within Christianity as Christianity Today recently addressed. I know, I made a brief digression to the science behind masks, let’s get back to the religious convictions I mentioned.
There are those in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our churches who are more vulnerable than we may know to complications Covid-19 can cause. One of my brother deacon’s wives, Shamassy Cindy, wrote a great article, To Mask or Not to Mask where she points out that the Church is a hospital for the sick and there are those like her and like me who have compromised immune systems. You don’t always see those at greater risk, and wearing a mask to ensure you’re not infecting others is an act of mercy. Because we as a nation are not handling this virus as well as others have, cases are continuing to rise. Shamassy points out, “the pain of isolation for some of us runs deeper than just the physical level.” That’s not going to get better until we all get together and fight this common enemy.
Compassion is rooted in Latin and literally means “to suffer with.” We have those in our community who suffer and Romans 15:1 tells us that “those that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak,” and 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “if one member suffers, all suffer together.” These are just a few examples, how many times throughout the Scriptures are we called to care for others, to show mercy, and to be compassionate? Refusing to wear a mask because of mild discomfort isn’t really suffering with our neighbors.
St. Nikolai Velimirovic gives a good insight into what mercy looks like.
“Seven brothers were ill in one hospital. One recovered from his illness and got up and rushed to serve his other brothers with brotherly love, to speed their recovery. Be like this brother. Consider all men to be your brothers, and sick brothers at that. And if you come to feel that God has given you better health than others, know that it is given through mercy, so in health you may serve your frailer brothers.””
That was pretty powerful for me. If we are in better health, we ought to use it to serve those. Compassion and mercy are key aspects of our Christian faith, so much so that St. Basil tells us that we won’t find mercy if we don’t show mercy. St Moses of Optina goes even further, pointing out that showing compassion is not a big deal:
“If at some time you show mercy to someone, mercy will be shown to you. If you show compassion to one who is suffering (and of course, this is not a great deed), you will be numbered among the martyrs.”
Knowing the effects of this virus, not just death, but lifelong suffering ahead of many survivors should be enough of a reason for us to all wear masks. Why? Because we’re called to love! Christ instructs us that there is no greater commandment than to love God and love our neighbor; if we truly love our neighbor, how are we okay with the possibility of harming them? I am not.
St. Basil the Great teaches us, “a good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” We are able to show the world that we care for others, we love our neighbors, we are compassionate towards our more vulnerable citizens. We are able to be shining examples of Christ’s light instead of coming off as hardened and indifferent or insensitive because after all, St. Paul tells us, “if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (I Corinthians 8:13). There are those who are uncomfortable with those who don’t wear masks. There are those who know they are more susceptible to coronavirus and it’s dangers. When Christians refuse to wear masks, what are they telling those people?
One of the arguments I keep hearing against masks is about “our freedoms” and the government’s role in mandating masks. Many, many Christians are pro-life, and I don’t just mean anti-abortion, but against euthanasia and the death penalty. For those, masks only make sense. Something as simple as wearing a mask, if we are an asymptomatic carrier, can save lives. If people politically pro-life believe laws can forbid abortion for a woman, how do they argue that masks that save lives are too much of an overreach? It doesn’t make sense. If Christians are going to say they are pro-life, be pro-life. Do what you can to help save others.
Our freedom is in Christ, not in the world. What does that mean? “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). We are free, but that freedom is found in our willingness and ability to serve one another in love. Does it seem like serving or loving to refuse something so simple that can save lives.
Our freedom should not be rooted in what we do and don’t want to do, because we are supposed to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
I want to tell a story about an Orthodox saint, St. Maria of Paris. During World War II, she risked her life to forge documents to save Jewish children from concentration camps. This cost her her freedom and she was arrested and sent to a camp herself. While there, she chose to take the place of another woman in the gas chamber and died to save another because, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (St. John 15:13). She was willing to face more discomfort than any of us will, even unto death, to save the life of others. What a glorious testament to the love of Christ and a witness we should strive to emulate.
I watched a recording of a city council hearing where members of the community came out and called masks evil and insisted that wearing a mask somehow stood against the breathing system God created. I’m not sure where these ideas come from, but they are sadly misguided. We wear seatbelts, take medication, undergo medical treatments, wear sunscreen, put on life jackets, have alarm systems, keep smoke detectors. None of these comment on our faith. Taking medication isn’t an attack on the systems God put in our lives. These are things we do as good stewards on this earth. We do these things to keep the beautiful gift of life and health God has bestowed upon us. And it’s something the Apostles took seriously as well.
St. Paul, when writing to St. Timothy, addressed his stomach ailment and told him how to care for it (1 Timothy 5:23). Even in the Apostolic Era, they used modern medical advice for health issues. And the wine St. Timothy was instructed to take didn’t alter his digestive tract. It didn’t bring into question God’s sovereignty over the body. It was common sense, much like wearing a mask to stop the spread of a deadly and life-altering virus.
For me, wearing a mask is a point of strengthening my faith. When I wear it, I’m reminded of those around me who are suffering, and I try to suffer with them. It’s humbling to receive ridicule for wearing a mask (and was a good point for me to check my level of frustration with others and pray for them). I wear it to protect myself but also as a very tangible way to love my neighbor. This mask I wear is a cross we bear right now, a visible, tangible sign that we all love one another.
I’m going to leave off with a final thought, not from me, but from St. Peter of Damascus on how we show and why we show love. May Christ guide us in all we do.
“Such are the souls of the saints: they love their enemies more than themselves, and in this age and in the age to come they put their neighbor first in all things… they do not seek recompense from those whom they love, but because they have themselves received they rejoice in giving to others all that they have, so that they may conform to their Benefactor and imitate His compassion to the best of their ability.”