Reblog: Some Coronavirus Catch-Up

Reposting here, with permission, some excellent comments from Boniface on his blog,

Here goes:

Some Coronavirus Catch-Up

Greetings, friends. I’ve had a lot of thoughts over the past several weeks and every time I sat down to share them, something else drew my attention away or some other rumination caused me to pause and reevaluate my thoughts. I finally have some time today, so I intend to just throw some things out there for consideration; please forgive the scattered nature of this post.
I. I understand and support the need for cancellation of public Massesbut these bishops who are forbidding the faithful access to confessions, baptisms, and Catholic burials are simply awful. Reading their statements, it’s like they don’t really believe the sacraments do anything. Their approach is “Just make a spiritual communion”, or “Just make an act of perfect contrition.” A lot of innuendo is packed into that little word just. Of course, spiritual communions and acts of perfect contrition are legitimate things we find in the Catholic Tradition. It is not the recommendations themselves, so much as the shoulder-shrugging “Hey…you can still get what you need elsewhere” attitude that has accompanied them. Their statements do not seem to adequately reflect the sense of deep grief that should accompany the suspension of public worship. “God is not bound by the sacraments”; yes of course, but this saying in context refers to the fact that God—being all-powerful—can act to communicate grace through any means He chooses, even outside of the sacraments. But that presumes also that the sacraments are the normative means for receiving the grace of God. They are the only way we know of that God has established to communicate these special graces. Using an act of perfect contrition in lieu of confession is meant for emergencies where a priest is physically unavailable, such as a plane crash. It is not meant for situations where literally all the priests in the diocese are alive and well and available but being told to not offer confessions because of fear of a virus that 99% of people recover from. And it is not guaranteed that a penitent will have sufficient contrition to perform it; and even if it is performed successfully, the requirement to still go to sacramental confession as soon as possible remains.
It has just been astonishing how little it took to completely eliminate the sacraments. It would be nice if we had more bishops like Bishop Strickland, who is encouraging his priests to find anyway they can to heroically make themselves available for confessions. Instead more are following the lead of Nighty-Night Tobin, telling his priests to forego confessions and encouraging Catholics to do less penance. What a disgrace.
II. Speaking of penance, why aren’t there more clergy leading prayers and acts of penance for God to remove the scourge of the coronavirus from us? Most of us know of the procession led by Pope St. Gregory the Great on April 25, 590 pleading for divine mercy on the plague that was then ravaging the city. This was the occasion of the famous apparition of St. Michael sheathing his sword atop the Mausoleum of Hadrian, after which the plague stopped. It should be noted that many infected with the plague partook in this event; eighty infected persons collapsed in the midst of the procession itself. Though I cannot remember the context, I believe Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I led the Frankish nobles in penance on their knees for the ending of a plague that was decimating Frankish troops in Lombardy. Processions for the cessation of the plague were also held in Rome under Adrian VI in 1522, after which the plague rapidly ended.

Church history affords many other such occasions. It is interesting that we are not seeing such petitions being made by Church authorities today. You may object that Pope Francis led a “Prayer for Protection from the Coronavirus” recently, but if you read the text of the prayer, at no point did he ask God to take away the virus from us. He asked Mary to protect us, asked that we might have the grace to carry our crosses, and conform ourselves to God’s will. But he did not ask God to take away the virus. In his Urbi et Orbi speech of March 27th, Pope Francis laudably encouraged Christians to return to Christ and rediscover our faith, but he did not ask God to take away the pandemic. Why aren’t we praying for God to end this virus? “You have not, because you ask not” (James 4:2). I think the answer is that to ask God to take away the pandemic implies that He is responsible for it, and few things are more verboten these days than suggesting natural disasters are a result of God’s judgment. In what sense do we even believe God is “in control” if we can’t affirm His will is behind the pandemic?

III. Stop saying the Church’s response to previous plagues is not valid today because they didn’t understand how disease was transmitted. It is true that prior peoples did not know about germs and bacteria, but they certainly knew that people who got close to the infected also tended to get the plague. People have always known this. We read that way back in 431 BC during the plague of Athens, the Spartans withdrew their soldiers from the lands around Athens to avoid contagion. During the Black Death quarantines were practiced regularly. Contagion was a concern among the authorities during the Roman procession of 1522. Pre-modern people definitely understood that disease is spread from contact with infected people, even if they did not know the mechanism. And yet, the sacramental life of the Church still continued on, as it should have. The difference in the Church’s actions in bygone days is not because they did not know what we know, but because they held different priorities than we do. The Church’s responses to past plagues are perfectly valid and praiseworthy templates for today.

IV. There are unintended positive things coming out of this situation though. Two weeks ago I went to the only confession I could find, at a generic Novus Ordo parish in the city. They were offering confessions around the clock all weekend. I came in at 11:30 at night and the place was packed. A CD of Gregorian Chant was playing through the PA system. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar. I had been to confession here before in the past and it wasn’t like this. In a crisis, people shed the things that are not helpful to them and hold fast to those which provide real sustenance to their lives. Confession. Eucharistic Adoration. The Church’s traditional music. These things were what these people wanted. It was very touching. It’s also been pointed out that there are now less sacrilegious communions. And before the total suppression of public masses, we had reception from the chalice restricted to the clergy alone and the sign of peace removed. It was so surreal seeing American bishops reminding their flocks that the sign of peace is only optional. Perhaps it will also teach people that it’s better to receive Holy Communion less but be better prepared than to receive it all the time with little preparedness. Maybe it will lead to a renewed appreciation for how important the sacraments are.

V. I do have a concern about some of the folks who have been deprived of Mass though
, especially those folks are are on the older end of the spectrum. I’m thinking of those people who have faithfully come to Mass for many years but perhaps have not cultivated a very deep spiritual life. Now they are being told to stay home and just watch the Mass on the computer. Perhaps they will settle in and think, “This is much easier than going to Mass, and it’s pretty much the same,” and even after the prohibition on public Masses have been lifted, they will continue to simply stay home and watch the Mass on TV, until eventually they stop even doing that. Thus the cancellation of public Masses becomes the occasion for the total overthrow of faith. Now, you will say, “A person who does that doesn’t have faith to begin with”; true, but they are less likely to nurture faith at home than if they had continued their rote Mass attendance unabated. So I do think this period will lead to a further permanent decrease in the amount of people who regularly come to Mass.
VI. I have been saddened and annoyed by the small but vocal army of individuals who have come out of the woodwork to badger us all endlessly about social distancing. Some of these folks are so embittered and angry about it that they not only are supporting the mass shut down of the entire economy—which I can understand, even if I disagree with—but they are angry at you if you don’t want to rejoice at the prospect of your entire savings vanishing, your job getting scuttled, and your livelihood wrecked. We are supposed to laud this and we are heartless killers if we don’t. A lot of these folks are in the immunocompromised crowd. I was talking to a priest about this last week and he noted that a lot of these people seem to take pride in their illnesses; it makes them special. It’s like a badge of righteousness they can hold over others. Unfortunately for them, much of the world doesn’t see immune deficiency or other illnesses in this way, nor as an excuse to completely and utterly destroy our economy and society. Their pride makes them very angry people. I agreed with this priest’s observation and have myself noticed that (white people in particular) are fond of claiming illnesses as a special status. It’s like, if you’re straight white you can’t get the sympathy of being a minority or LGBT, but the victim culture mentality has still seeped in through other ways, making them “proud” of being immunodeficient, depressed, eating disordered, autistic, mental health problems, whatever. Medical problems are the victim hood culture of white people. And the pandemic itself isn’t as bad as the incessant, moralizing nagging of America’s mommy-bloggers.

VII. One observation I made that particularly irked some folks is that people will not tolerate this sort of lock down for too long. A few weeks? But after that they are going to get antsier and antsier about going back to their old routines. The crashing economy will crush more heavily on people, and eventually political momentum will build for a restoration to normalcy. This will be the case regardless of whether the pandemic has abated or not. What will happen is that society will collectively decide to sacrifice the well-being of the immunocompromised in exchange for getting life back to normal—”sacrificed” meaning society will settle for containment measures that are less effective in order to return to something closer to normal economic activity. Society can’t simply be put on hold for months and months on end, regardless of what our government or the CDC or the immunocompromised or anybody else might want to believe. The populace at large will simply not stand for it. Not saying that is good or bad, but it’s simply how people will respond to prolonged lock down.

VIII. This situation has further confirmed that the so-called “Seamless Garment” Pro-life ethic is not only misguided, but positively dangerous and heretical. The bishops who are prohibiting confession and baptism are doing so on the premise that it is necessary in order to preserve human life. The unspoken assumption is that the preservation of physical life is the highest good that precedes all other goods. I believe this errant thinking is the result of the infection of the Seamless Garment Pro-Life ethic into the Catholic populace. The Seamless Garment Pro-Life ethic holds that all killing is morally wrong; ergo, these people will argue against capital punishment from a Pro-Life perspective, and frequently suggest that if we are “really” Pro-Life we would support things like socialized medicine, entitlement programs, etc. Arguments that begin with “If you were really Pro-Life” give me a headache. At any rate, this is in contradistinction to what I would call the Traditional Pro-Life ethic, which holds that the murder of innocents is wrong. “Killing is wrong” vs. “the murder of innocents is wrong” are two vastly different positions. The traditional Pro-Lifer opposes abortion not primarily because it is killing, as much as that it is the killing of an innocent life; i.e., murder.

This is why there is no contradiction in a traditional Pro-Lifer supporting the execution of criminals while opposing abortion; it was never about “killing” as such, but about the deliberate murder of the innocent. If we were to adopt the premise that killing is always wrong (which is not what the Church teaches, see here and here) then we are implicitly affirming that the preservation of physical human life is always paramount, which is simply not true and has never been. The Church has always taught that our salvation is more important than the preservation of physical life; even other natural virtues such as justice may take precedence over physical life (i.e., a person willingly sacrifices his life in pursuit of a just cause). But the actions of our hierarchy are sending the message that all that spiritual stuff about salvation takes a back seat to the preservation of physical life, which is not only wrong but very much a heresy. And before one of you ass hats pops in the comments saying “Oh so what, you want people to die? You think physical life doesn’t matter? Because what you are saying is you want people to die”—of course physical life is important. Everybody has the right and expectation of seeking to maintain their physical existence. I am not saying it is not important, only that it is not of ultimate importance. There is a hierarchy of goods, and maintaining physical existence is not at the top. But when the faithful are cut off from confession and baptism, this is the message our leaders are sending. Seek ye first the prolongation of your temporal existence.

IX. One final thing, my father is 69 years old and suffers from Stage 4 COPD and is also recovering from lung cancer, so please don’t give me any nonsense about “You wouldn’t think this way if you had a vulnerable person in your family.” I know what it’s like to have a vulnerable person close.

Alright, that is enough of my complaining for now. Until next time. God bless you all. Stay safe. May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.

There you have it; couldn’t have said it better myself.  Stay faithful and stay healthy.
Te Deum, laudamus!


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