I am writing this article from Italy, the country that has become my home for the past 18 months. We have been on lockdown for almost two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We leave the house only if absolutely necessary.
The daily 6pm bulletin released by the Italian government gives us a brief of the number of new cases, the people who have healed and an awfully large number of victims that succumb daily to the virus.
It was only a matter of days before Malta also started to experience a phenomenon that has been unsettling our daily routines, social encounters, liturgies, and for some of us, even our very livelihood.
The word apocalypse gets thrown around often in these surreal days. It is a recurring theme in much of our popular culture. There is curiosity intertwined with a deep-seated fear of end-of-the-world scenarios.
The meaning of the word apocalypse has undergone a transformation and gradually found its nest in our collective unconscious. We think of it when we speak about cataclysmic events, but its original meaning is deeper than that. In the Greek language that gave birth to it, apocalypse literally means ‘removing the veil’, uncovering what is previously concealed.
Why is the time we are living in truly and properly apocalyptic?
We are the first generation in the West, after that of World War II, to experience a dramatic fear for our lives. Impersonating itself in the people around us, this virus has given us that chilling effect of imminent danger for us and our loved ones.
However, I truly believe this experience is offering us something more. It has given us an apocalyptic glimpse into our life. By having to let go of our freedom of movement, by making us spend an extended period of time with our family under the same roof, and by having to adopt a more minimalist approach to our consumption we are gradually uncovering what is most essential in our life.
Perhaps in this forced social isolation we are coming to terms again with the thirst for real relationships that we thought we could satisfy virtually on social networks. These days are apocalyptic because they reveal to us that our DNA is not only made of chromosomes that remind us to eat when hungry or to be productive to feel acknowledged.
These days can potentially reveal our truest identity that resonates with our need to love and be loved.
The silence on the streets might finally give voice to what we have muted through our endless to-do lists or the social events we repeatedly organise to fill our time.
These days are apocalyptic because they might also make us comfortable enough to remove our armour that frantically yells “I’m OK”, and by sensing a virus-driven anxiety in each other we might even grow more compassionate and ready to listen. While exposing our fears and vulnerabilities, these days will also reveal our humanity.
It is striking and perhaps providential that all public worship has been suspended. This is also apocalyptic: it is a reminder that liturgy never stops because it overflows in the daily gestures of love, in the ordinary but frequently overlooked domestic life to which we are invited and not necessarily bound.
Fr Alexander Zammit is MSSP priest studying in Rome
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