For the last few weeks, all anyone can talk about is “The Corona Virus” (COVID-19). So I thought I would join in. I like to be included! First of all, what is this coronavirus that everyone is talking about?
Note how the first sentence has “The Corona Virus” in quotations, but I have it as one word in the fourth sentence. This is because although everyone is calling it by this name, coronavirus is a specific type of virus and there are lots of them. A handful are some of the main causes of the common cold. Coronaviruses are named this because of their appearance. They have a round body with proteins sticking out of all sides of it. This makes the virus look like it has a halo, or like the corona of the sun. Pictured below are a scientist’s artistic idea of COVID-19 (left) where you can see the proteins surrounding it, and one of the only actual pictures we have of it, from an electron microscope (right). The viruses are the yellow circles.
The title “coronavirus” has nothing to do with the genetics of the viruses or how deadly they may be. As I mentioned, there are some very mild types that cause nothing more than a few sniffles. Coronaviruses are just one type of virus. There are many others with different shapes and different traits, but what makes a virus a virus?
A virus is a tiny infectious agent that is only able to replicate when it is inside of a living cell. Scientists have been aware of viruses since 1892 when a non-bacterial pathogen was found to be infecting tobacco plants. Now we know that they are actually in almost every part of the Earth, infecting all types of life forms. When viruses are not busy infecting things, they exist as independent particles called virions. These virions have 3 main parts: the genetic material, a protein coat surrounding the genetic material called a capsid, and lipids surrounding the outside called an envelope.
Other than because they cause disease, viruses are fascinating to scientists for one other reason: scientists can’t decide whether viruses are alive or not. They’ve been debating whether viruses qualify as “life” for years. Because of this, viruses have often been described as “organisms at the edge of life.” To give you a brief overview of the debate, here are some of the main points.
- Possess genes
- Evolve by natural selection
- Don’t have own metabolism
- Don’t have cellular structure
- Can’t reproduce outside a host cell
It’s definitely a tricky subject, but to scientists it is still a mystery. There are still so many unknowns when it comes to viruses.
There are many things about the Catholic faith that are a mystery too. Some of these mysteries of our faith are the incarnation, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the resurrection. These are mysteries in that they cannot be explained by reason alone. The New Testament often refers to “mysteries”, but the translation is less Scooby Doo and more “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.” These are things that we have to wait until heaven to fully comprehend.
One mystery of the Catholic Church that has come up a lot in my life recently is the Eucharist. It looks like bread; it tastes like bread. My brain wants to say that it is just bread, and I KNOW BREAD! (my love handles can attest to that) Even with all of these physical signs pointing to it, the Church says that it is NOT just bread. The Church explains this appearance/taste as the “accidental”. That it happens to have these physical characteristics, but it is in fact 100% completely and fully our God in the palm of our hands. The substance of this thing we receive is actually our God, not bread.
This is SUCH a difficult concept; our finite human intellects will never fully understand it here on Earth. That’s why it’s called a mystery. Since this is the case, it’s understandable that a recent Pew research study found that only 31% of U.S. Catholics believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” The other 69% say the bread and wine are just symbols. It’s not a correct belief, but I understand how that 69% would think this. This is a really difficult concept. Especially for people like me who NEEEEED answers. We need to see the logic of things. When the Church tells us that these things are just mysteries of the Church, it is so frustrating. We are told we just need to trust.
We need to trust that our intellects are nothing compared to the wisdom of God. Trust in God is something that I’ve been struggling with the last few months. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a control freak type of person. I want to be in control of everything. So it is not that I don’t believe in God or that I don’t trust that He wants good for me. I just have a difficulty with letting go. I actually know many people that struggle with this. That’s probably why we’re friends, we can relate.
Since I struggle with this too, I’m inviting all of us to work on trusting more. Especially in this time where so much feels out of our control, including the viral illnesses listed above and all the panic that has come with it. Here’s my challenge for you and me: Let’s pray this prayer (or something like it) once a day. Every morning, start with it. Every morning, give this day to our Lord. Every morning, put our trust in the one who is all-loving.
Precious Lord, You have commanded me to be strong and of good courage! You have commanded me to not be afraid; or discouraged, for You my Lord God will be with me wherever I go. I place my trust in You, Amen.
This probably won’t stop you from having like a thousand questions. This won’t help you solve the mysteries of the Church like the scientists are trying to solve the mysteries of viruses, but hopefully this will really help us to feel less worry, a physical effect, and also grow closer to Christ, a spiritual effect.