Trust in the Time of Swine Flu

1779 1779_ () 1779 1779 Weekly column

Flu season is certainly a tricky time of year. It can cause worry and fear, push us to that fine line that separates extreme caution and paranoia, and it can test the bonds of even the strongest friendships.

These are the days when moms keep especially close track of just who their children have been in contact with, and when. We have mental spreadsheets of what families have which strains of what sickness, and then a running graph of how many degrees separate us from those families who have been hit by whatever bug is currently “going around.”

“Did you hear,” a friend will say of another family, “they got that bug yesterday.” And all the other mothers will think about the last time we were around those children (at school? At soccer?) and calculate the odds of us getting whatever it is they have.

I’m not sure which is worse, to have the child who was playing with the kid who spiked a temp the very next day or to be the mother of the child who suddenly ran a fever and threw up everywhere, hours after that very fun playdate. Being the infector or the infectee – both have extreme disadvantages.

I was around a friend recently when one of my boys started feeling bad. Her own children had recently recovered from what was hopefully their one and only round of sickness and we are good enough friends that she just said she couldn’t handle anymore sickness and could I not have my boy around her crew.

I suppose I could have been offended by that attitude, but the truth is I totally get it. On more than one occasion I have felt that same urgency to not get sick, not again! We keep track of who has been where and sometimes we have to pull back (or ask others to do the same) to keep ourselves healthy and sane.

There is an interesting challenge in these days of the flu to strike a balance between trust in God and also using the brain He gave us. It’s not simply choosing one approach or the other – it’s about constantly staying in check that we are doing both.

I’m not ready to barricade my boys in our home, but I also want to be smart when we are out and about.

For the past few weeks, I have struggled during Mass when it came time to receive communion. Each week, I would strongly consider just how prudent it was to be drinking from the common cup. If I had been feeling sick myself the decision would have been easy – no precious blood. But here I was healthy (and pregnant), and mostly worried about the germs I might be exposed to.

And yet, I wondered about seeking a healthy balance. This is the Blood of Jesus, I would say to myself. If I truly believe this, shouldn’t that offer me some protection? I also took into account the alcohol in the wine (which, it turns out, is not really a high enough level to kill any germs).

That this was the Real Presence was not my automatic answer, but I somehow felt obligated to consider that as part of the solution. I wanted to rely on my own wits, but not so heavily that I took all faith out of the equation.

And then our Bishop came out with his decision to withdraw offering the Blood of Christ until this flu season has passed. We are also avoiding handholding and handshaking as a further means of protection against germs spread during Mass.

My decision was made for me – and it all boiled down to common sense. The best way to avoid possible germs on the cup is to simply not pass the cup.

I was relieved.

In these tense days of germs and flu bugs, we have to be smart. We act like it depends on us – carry Germ-X, wash our hands, stay home when sick. We do all these things, and then we pray like it depends on God – and that, ultimately, is the only place we will truly find our peace. 1779″> .



  1. Twice this month I've sent healthy-looking kids to school and had them return home burning up with fever. Tim came down with H1N1 after a 12 hour retreat, a 4 hour party, school, catechesis, and Boy Scouts. I hate to think how many kids we infected.

  2. Kansas Mom says:

    Our kids haven't been really sick this winter (yet), just minor colds and runny noses, but we've kept them home from just about anything if they have any fever or symptoms. I don't want to figure out later they had H1N1 (which ran rampant in our part of Kansas recently). It's made for some quiet days around the house, which I appreciate. I think I'm also appreciating our time at play dates even more than before. That time with friends has become more precious.

    Still praying, though. Oh, how I dread real illness in the family!

  3. Ecce Quam Bonam says:

    I found myself wondering Sunday, good Catholic that I am, if it even is possible for someone to get sick as a result of receiving the Blood of Christ Jesus. How could something the causes illness/death be transmitted by the liquid presence of perfection and wholeness, of life that destroyed death? I find I can't believe it's possible, but I also wonder if it's ever been tested.

  4. Our congregation has started using intinction, so you still receive both elements. It seems like a happy and sensible compromise.

  5. Great article, really really great article. I love the balance you are displaying and find that I approach many activities my family participates in with caution as well as stepping out in faith at times.
    As far as the communion cup, it isn't offered at our parish. The priest dips the body into the blood and then places it on our tongues. I love that~

  6. I was quite relieved that Bishop made that decision. And the fact that he asked people to the charitable thing and stay home of you are sick and at risk of infecting others. After all, we do receive our Lord, in totality, in the Host.

  7. Our Bishop did the same in our Diocese and although many folks at our Church were upset, our amazing priests explained it this way . . .

    "This is the Blood of Jesus. The wine has been transformed. The germs, however, have not. Unfortunately, they have not become the probiotics of Christ."

    Fr. Timothy Devine has a . . . well . . . divine sense of humour!

  8. I thought Catholic parishes were not allowed to use intinction any more, though I can't remember why. I think it was banned after Communion in the hand was started, when I was in high school. Even now, what if someone does not want to receive the Precious Blood at all, but the Host has already been dipped? I know recovering alcoholics who completely believe that the cup contains the true Blood of Christ, but find that the appearances — taste and smell–of wine are troublesome, so they do not receive from the cup. Since the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is present in the Host, that is OK.

  9. Well said! We mom's are all going through this process this flu season, and my family is the infectee one's. Ugh. Sick again!

  10. There are many parishes who don't offer the Blood anymore, especially during daily Mass. this was explained by a priest to me who said that because there full, Real Presence is in both the bread and the wine, you can receive one or the other and don't need to have both. Many parishes don't offer the wine to the congregation because of fears of spilling (per this priest), which is much more difficult to clean than an accidental dropping of the Eucharist. I know that doesn't make sense to some, but this came from a priest. I have been to many daily Masses where the cup is not offered at all. It is still offered in our church, both at daily and Sunday Mass, but our pastor has publicly given permission for people not to take the Blood if they feel concern about the germ issue.

  11. Rony Pannell says:

    Smart Priest. Very wise indeed.

  12. Karl Keating, founder of Catholic Answers, wrote a really great letter explaining transubstantiation in laymen's terms, and why/how the Precious Blood does not innoculate the communicant against germs.

    See here:

  13. class-factotum says:

    I have always been grossed out by the idea of drinking from the same cup as a gajillion other people, so I always skip the cup. Of course, I am also a very reluctant hand-holder, too. (If I am holding my hands together in front of me at the Our Father, it's because I do not want to hold hands with you. Please. It's not personal. I just do not want to hold hands. Even with my mother. I'll hold hers because I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I am not so concerned with the feelings of a stranger. I say with a smile.)