Years ago I visited a grizzled former Portland Police Bureau detective. I was prattling on about progress at the University of Portland when he pointed a finger at me and growled, “In thirty-five years on the force, I learned one thing, only one thing. Do you know what it is?”

“No.” I hadn’t a clue.

He squinted his eyes and harrumphed louder, “Assume nothing.” He repeated, jabbing his finger, “Assume nothing.”

How timely those two wise words seem now.

More data comes in daily about COVID-19, but we know little of what life will look like a week, month, or year from now. How long will the elderly and sick be vulnerable? When will I be able to hug my mother again without putting her at risk? In a month will I have a job? If I do return to work will I get sick? How long can I pay the bills and feed my family? When will I be able to go to Mass and receive the sacraments?

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It boosted people’s spirits enormously even though it was wholly illogical. We fear many tangible realities right now as people did then; they are fears with a variety of names. They are our remaining crosses, even after Lent is over.

Over Lent, we may have planned to fast from desserts or alcohol or to give alms in donations or service, but now we are being asked to fast from one another’s company, from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, from the ordinary activities and kindnesses through which we are used to feeding one another.

How difficult it is to be told the most pastoral thing we can do — clergy, religious and laity alike — is to stay away from other human souls. How hard to embrace that cross. How ironic and profound yet strangely hope-filled for believers to be asked to do precisely that as we have moved into celebrating the Resurrection. It is a wholly impossible-to-anticipate pilgrimage of faith that everyone of us is on together.

I would qualify my old detective friend’s advice about assuming nothing in only one way. We can assume that we are not really alone, that grace envelops us in many ways: the generosity of volunteers delivering food; the heroism of health care personnel jerry-rigging safety equipment; families abstaining from visiting their in-laws and cousins; supermarket employees with aching feet from double shifts – all of them wondering whether their dedication will result in their communicating the virus to their families. In giving so much so selflessly, they are emulating in ways great and small the sacrifice of Jesus.

We are believers whose faith is embodied by the sacraments, but the church itself and the people of God who comprise it are sacraments too. If we cannot receive those sacraments we crave right now, we can look out and appreciate the concrete mercies emanating from all those who are signs of faith and hope, messengers of God’s love, bringing Christ to us.

Rarely has an entire society, and never has the whole world, been asked to express its unity as God’s people by dedicating itself to caring for the sick, the poor, the helpless, and the grieving as we are now. So often we have pondered the paradoxes of the Beatitudes. How can those who suffer be blessed?

But we are so abundantly being blessed now in the midst of named and unnamable fears and wants. Some are encountering those sacramental people personally in grocery lines or hospitals. For the most part, though, as we hunker down in our homes, they are laboring unseen and unknown.

However, they are there, all around us, like the God whose love penetrates every speck of creation that is even smaller and more powerful than the virus assaulting us, the one thing we can assume and in which we place our hope.

Father King is an instructor of theology at the University of Portland.