Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Remember and Turn Back to Our Loving God

One of the problems of the 21st century West is that—with all of our technology and knowhow—we think we are in control of our environment. So, when a plague, a war, a natural disaster, or other threat strikes, we’re terrified. We overreact. We think nobody has suffered like this before. 


We’ve lost that sense of humility. The modern Western world scoffs at the attitudes of past Christians and calls them superstitious. Then celebrities announce that they’ve contracted COVID-19 and people insist that the government, the doctors, the military and others do something. The fact that this has happened is the fault of these groups because it is not supposed to happen! We think we shouldn’t have to practice “social isolation” (quarrantine) and te fact that a disease is going around that might kill us


But in the past, people knew that things were beyond their control. Some of that was due to limited science, yes. But another part of it was that the people of ancient and medieval times knew they were not God, and there were things they could not control. Because of that, they turned to God and trusted in Him. God’s help could be manifested in a physical deliverance from physical evil. But it also involved the fact that our present life on Earth was not all there was to our existence. In the end, the Christians of the past could earnestly appeal for help but ultimately respond like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).


Ultimately, we need to remember this attitude. Science could discover a vaccine. Science might be permanently stumped. But God remains in control. We can’t avoid trials in this life, but we can put our trust in Him, who seeks our ultimate good.



(†) The current reports are: Not as fatal as we first thought, but kills more than the flu—especially the elderly.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sed Libera a Malo: Reflections on Trusting God

For the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi, we had the Gospel reading of Jesus calming the storm. This morning the Gospel reading was of raising Lazarus. In both of them, we see the theme of Jesus facing our fears and grief, encouraging us in the face of things beyond our control. To his disciples, the storm at sea was beyond their control. To Mary and Martha, death was an unsurmountable barrier. To the disciples, the attitude was act before it is too late! To Mary and Martha, it was iIf You had been there, You could have done something. But now that he’s dead, it’s too late.


For both of these attitudes, Our Lord has the same kind of response—It’s not too late, I am in control. Believe in me. That’s hard for us to grasp. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a pandemic, or a personal tragedy, it’s hard for us to see beyond the here and now. We’re suffering or grieving now. We think it will never change.


What makes it hard is that sometimes we do suffer. There have been plagues, wars, persecutions and other trials where people have suffered and died. Sometimes the outcome we want is not the outcome God wills for us. But we need to remember Jesus’ words. Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:40) and “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). 


Our problem is that while we do want to have faith, we’re afraid of what God wills for us. That’s not faith however. That’s being afraid that God won’t do what is right for us. But what He wills for us is good, not evil. As we are told in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”


That doesn’t mean a Prosperity Gospel kind of “everything will be fine, so don’t worry.” It means that—given Our Lord intends for us to have eternal life with Him—what He calls us to will go beyond the needs of this physical life and what is good for us will have that consideration in this life. Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof might sing, “Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan, If I were a wealthy man?” But it might spoil our eternal plan. Mark 10:23 tells us, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” We might find that we would handle wealth badly, misusing it and living selfishly, for example. It also doesn’t mean that to be a Christian is to mandate living in a hell on Earth. We’re not obligated to choose the worst options in life. Some might be called to practice the severe austerities of the Desert Fathers. But others cannot live that life. 


What we are called to is to live in a way that says “Not my will, but Your will be done.” In this life, we might be blessed with wealth and comfort. But we will have to give an accounting of what we did with it to serve God. We might be given poverty and suffering. But we will need to give an accounting for how we responded.


Those saints who responded to suffering with heroic virtue probably would have been happy enough to give the suffering a miss. But they also responded to what they experienced out of love for God.


None of us knows what will happen. We could die of old age in comfort. We could die young in poverty… or anywhere in between. I could catch COVID-19 tomorrow, die in a car wreck, or not. But God wills my good for me, regardless of what happens. So when we pray the Our Father, and get to the line “deliver us from evil,” we need to recognize that what is ultimately good for us is what will bring us to Heaven, and what is ultimately bad for us will hinder us from that ultimate good.


So, while none of us want to suffer. Let us pray that whatever comes our way, we may approach it in a way that focuses first of all on Christ and seek to do His will in all things.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Dealing With the “Roads They Have Made Crooked”

Their feet run to evil, 
and they hasten to shed innocent blood; 
Their thoughts are thoughts of wickedness, 
violence and destruction are on their highways. 
The way of peace they know not, 
and there is no justice on their paths; 
Their roads they have made crooked, 
no one who walks in them knows peace. 

— Isaiah 59:7–8 (NABRE)

Can you imagine carrying on with the struggles of partisan life in the midst of a crisis? Unfortunately it's not unusual for people to put self interest above the common good, even in the worst of times. This was actually the premise of a British crime series—Foyle’s War—where the lead needed to solve murders instead of working to defeat the Nazis because the criminals were acting despite—or sometimes taking advantage of—the time of national crisis. It certainly was necessary, but since it required diverting resources from the main goal, that led to an added sense of irritation in dealing with these cases.


This is about how I feel when I encounter certain people who take advantage of our current crisis to push their own agendas. We see pro-abortion supporters saying that even though there is a crisis going on, the “human right” of abortion needs to be “defended.” Or the atheist who takes advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by saying that the Pope should be donating money instead of calling for prayer. And when the Pope purchases 30 respirators to donate to places most badly in need, they respond by saying “Why didn’t he do it sooner?”. That’s not to mention the usual antics of Anti-Francis Catholics who use this crisis to attack the orthodoxy of the Pope and bishops for responding to the pandemic by calling the Church closures as a “lack of faith,” or do the “business as usual” accusations that the Pope is a heretic or “confusing.” Or the usual antics of the “you’re only anti-abortion, not pro-life” crowd who confuse Catholic social teaching with whether the plan is sponsored by someone with a -D or an -R after their name.


Adding to that, we are often faced with the challenge of “why are you worrying about that at a time like this?” when we do respond… usually by the one who started the attack in the first place.


Yes, it’s necessary to refute their attacks. Error does not cease to be error in times of crisis. But the irritating thing is that we shouldn’t have to be dealing with it. There’s a battle going on and, in this time of self-isolation, those who blog or make podcasts or use other means of Catholic outreach, would rather work to help comfort those who are dealing with the fear of what might happen with COVID-19, and encouraging them to act faithfully and trust in God. 


Yes, People will continue to spread their “thoughts of wickedness.” We’ll have to address them. But, if we get a little annoyed at people who take advantage of this time to push their agendas, it’s understandable.



(†) As a matter of statistics, the Vatican (population ~1000) purchasing and donating 30 respirators would be the equivalent of the United States (population ~327 million) purchasing and donating 9,810,000 respirators (based on the fact that the Vatican purchased an amount equal to 3% of the population.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

What Are We Doing?

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted In the Wilderness
As we continue our national shutdown and become the country with the highest (recorded) number of cases, we become more reliant on social media to interact with each other. For some of us, this isn’t much of a change. For others, it’s a drastic disruption on how we live. But changed or not, life does go on.

Our life as Catholics goes on too. We may not have access to Mass or the Sacraments, but our call to live as faithful Christians continues. So we need to ask ourselves—what are we doing in this time of self-isolation? Are we using the time of isolation which we have to turn further to God and bear witness to Him? Or are we behaving in a way that hides from Him in our personal lives or defaces how He appears in the eyes of others?

Like it or not, many of us are having our Lenten time in the desert (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) in a more imposing sense than we would like, and we have to decide how to face it. Obviously the person who works in an essential job or a mother of young children will not have the same opportunities as a single person who works from home. So it would be foolish to write about one way of living the Catholic life as if it were something all should follow.

But all of us should be asking ourselves what we could be doing in this time in the desert that our abilities and capacity can handle. If we approach it that way, seeking God’s will and asking for His grace, we might find ourselves growing closer to God.

But if we just use this time to continue our vendettas and petty squabbles, we might be shocked to learn we have fallen away from Him and alienated ourselves from each other.


(†) To avoid any confusion here, I am not talking about when the Church binds us to do or avoid something. The Church can and does make legitimate universal requirements of us. I am talking about the “It’s so easy—all you have to do is…” attitude that is so easy for us to fall into in judging others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Momento Mori: A Reminder of the Things We Forgot

With entire states and nations on lockdown and Mass closed to the public, I find this time to be a reminder of what we’ve lost sight of. As COVID-19 runs rampant, we learned that we human beings cannot solve all of our own problems. Through our own actions or the acts of another, we can cause harm to ourselves and each other. All of the factional fights we’ve had seems trivial when compared to the realization that we are finite beings who are need of salvation that is beyond our control. 

If we think of it that way with a physical ailment that might eventually have a medical cure, we ought to also consider our predicament in our spiritual life. If we are so concerned with what harms the body, we should also consider what harms the soul. 

I don’t say that in the sense of a gnostic who scorns the physical. Pandemics are serious if left unchecked after all. And, as we are all possessors of a physical body, whatever afflicts it can cause discomfort, pain, or even agony. Things we are not wrong in wanting to be safe from. The Church certainly recognizes the importance of prayer. Even the secular media isn’t sneering recently when the Pope announces Prayer and Fasting for the end of the affliction.

But after giving the proper care for our health, we have to remember that all of the physical suffering in this life will end at death. But life goes on after death. What happens to us after death will be an eternal state. The state of our souls is afflicted with the pandemic of sin. If it is left uncured, we can die of it, whether sins we choose to commit and sins of others that can lead us into sin.

Therefore the real threat of physical death should also lead us to consider the the real threat to the state of our souls. People need to consider the four last things—Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven—in how we live. There is a Latin adage: Tempus fugit. Momento Mori. “Time is fleeting. Remember Death.”

I could die of COVID-19. I could die of an accident. I could die of any number of things no matter how careful I am. So could you. So perhaps while we’re practicing social isolation, unable to avail ourselves of the sacraments, we should use this time to reflect on where we stand before the Lord. Regardless of what human physicians can do with the pandemic, we do have a Divine Physician for the sin pandemic.

So let us pray to Him for grace to repent and to make a perfect act of contrition in case we should die before we can receive the Sacrament of Penance. And, in case we should live, let us prepare ourselves for when we can receive the sacraments again. 

Let us remember these things, so however we approach life will prepare us for the life after death.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Reflecting on Critics of the Church Dispensations Over COVID-19 and the Mass

In various times, we have had different plagues and other crises. The Church has dealt with them in various ways based on the needs of the people and the knowledge of science at the times. As science progressed, the precautions that were not intrinsically evil were adopted. Those that were morally unacceptable were rejected.

Unfortunately, certain Catholics react in a hostile manner to the Church responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and laws establishing quarantine. These Catholics argue that, in past centuries, the Church did not close off Masses. Therefore, the Church today should not close them. Especially since “only” 8000 people have died (as of the time I write this).

These arguments overlook some crucial concerns. For example, in the influenza epidemic of 1918, fifty million people died and one-third of the world population was believed to have been infected. Like today, there was no vaccine, so the governments then did what they do now (isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings). The Church cooperated with these restrictions. We could also look at the Black Death of the 14th century where an estimated 75 to 200 million people died, where people did not know of germs and how they spread. The result was that people did not know about effective methods to prevent the spread of disease.

The problem is that the Catholics criticizing the Church today expect it should continue the Medieval practices  that led to keeping the churches open during past plagues. I believe that they’re mistaking the lack of knowledge in the past for trusting God, arguing that we don’t have faith today. The question they need to ask is whether the Popes and bishops of the Middle Ages would have carried out those policies if they had the understanding of germs that we do now.

I don’t say this to blame the Church. Understanding germs certainly would have been impossible before the discovery of the microscope (AD 1590~). Some try to bash the Church as being “anti-science” and therefore to blame for epidemics (blaming it on witchcraft). That’s bad history. The science§ of the time—regardless of the culture—didn’t know how diseases were spread. They could only reason that because of the unhealthiness of certain areas, certain phenomena associated with those areas (like “the air”). That could limit some bad effects (like “don’t live in a marsh”) but not all of them (like “don’t spread germs”) since they hadn’t been discovered yet.

But both the Church and State know more about germ theory now than they did in the 14th century. As a result, they implemented policies that were unknown then. Quarantine and suspending public Mass are part of this.

Yes, keeping the Commandment to keep holy the Lord’s day is important. But in a serious situation, a bishop can implement a policy that suits the needs of his diocese, dispensing the obligation to attend Mass. We’re still obliged to keep the Lord’s Day holy. But we must not endanger others in doing so. 

It’s true that COVID-19 hasn’t killed as many people (yet?) as the flu. But it would be a false analogy to argue that, because of this, we don’t need to do anything different. COVID-19 spreads more widely than the flu and can be spread by people before they even know they have it. So if you go to Mass and don’t know you have it. You can spread it to others before you know you have it. Then they go off to spread it to their homes before detecting the symptoms in themselves.

If others have it, they can spread it to you in the same way and you can spread it to your own household in the same way. Depending on how close together people live in your diocese, it can have a greater or lesser impact and the diocesan restrictions can be greater or lesser. So it doesn’t mean that the bishop of a diocese that needs fewer restrictions is “holier” or “has more faith” than the bishop that needs more restrictions.

The grumbling against the bishops reminds me of the criticism against the Church concerning previous contagions. 

Occasionally, critics have blamed the Church for past epidemics. For example, many say the Church is “to blame”for the AIDS crisis in Africa because of her condemnation of contraception. Such critics overlook the fact that, as with COVID-19, modification of behavior can help prevent the spread of disease more effectively than risky behavior. Those who are infected and still choose to have sexual intercourse effectively refuse to modify their behavior to prevent contagion. Perhaps they do not realize the selfishness of such behavior, and can’t conceive ofliving any other way. But this is another example where critics want the Church to accommodate them.

The Catholic who gets angry with his bishop or the Pope over the existence of restrictions is behaving in a similar way. He or she wants the Church to accommodate how they want to live in a condition where that way of living might do harm to themselves or others.

Ultimately we still have to keep Sunday holy, even if we cannot attend Mass. We have the Bible, the Missal, the Rosary, free downloads of the Liturgy of the Hours app, televised Mass, and other ways to worship until we are free of the epidemic and can go to Mass again. 

Yes, most of us are unable to physically receive the Eucharist under these circumstances. And that is a painful loss.But this is also an opportunity to remember that there are many in the Church who are also unable to attend Massdue to age, infirmity, or lack of priests. We must pray for the grace to go forward until we are delivered from this pandemic.


(§) And it was science in the sense of observation of cause and effect, drawing conclusions. But people forget that the technology we take for granted—or even now consider obsolete—did not even exist yet and so, the science of the time could not be as effective.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Why I Defend Him: A Reflection on the Seventh Anniversary of Pope Francis

During the pontificate of Pope Francis, I’ve been accused of turning a blind eye, being ignorant of, or otherwise being negligent in my support of the Pope. I thought I would offer this reflection.

It might surprise you, but prior to the 2013 conclave, I was hoping for Cardinal Burke§ to be named Pope. Other favorites included Cardinal Sarah or Cardinal Arinze. Prior to his becoming Pope, I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio. The blog post I wrote on the day of his election reflects that. But even back then, I trusted in God to protect His Church. Seven years later, I can confidently say that God has done so.

That doesn’t mean it was always easy to keep trusting in God in those first days. Like other Catholics, I had grown to think that the ways that the Church had always approached things would be the way the Church always would approach them. So, when this Pope did things differently from his predecessors, it was easy to wonder if the accusations from his critics had merit. It didn’t help that long time dissenters were seizing on shallow interpretations of his words to argue that they were “right” all the time. There were times when I wondered if I had misunderstood the promise Christ made about protecting His Church.

What I would eventually discover was: when one reads the actual transcripts of his writings and press conferences, they were very Catholic, mirroring his predecessors. We were now living in the age of the soundbite, where an ignorant or unethical reporter could take a specific quote isolated from all context and use it to promote an agenda, conservative or liberal.

When it became clear that the accusations against the Pope were false, the critics would argue that the Pope was “unclear” and “causing confusion.” Nobody stopped to ask whether their understanding itself was faulty. If there was a problem in the Church, the Pope was to blame.

Eventually, I reached the point of noticing that we were seeing the same critics making the same errors every time, and had to ask, “why are we continuing to give them our attention when they have gotten it wrong every time?” When I heard of accusations against him, I waited for the full document before judging what I heard.

In every controversy, this approach worked. The accusations of “being a socialist,” fell apart when his words were compared to his predecessors (notably Pius XI) on social justice. The accusations of being supportive of “same sex marriage” and “ordaining women,” contradicted his actual words. It was clear that there was neither a defect with his own teachings nor with his predecessors’ teachings.

That’s not to say there were no problems in his pontificate. There are, just like there were with his predecessors and will be with his successors. That’s something that will happen when the Church is filled with human beings and not angels. But it would be wrong to say that the Pope willed, or even directly caused the problems simply because they turned up during his pontificate. That’s the post hoc fallacy.

So, why do I defend him? It’s not because I support error. It’s because I am convinced that he teaches the Catholic Faith and, when he changes a discipline, it is to emphasize a teaching that people have lost sight of and downplayed when it was taught by his predecessors.


(§) Because of this, I find his frequent criticisms of the Pope—which I believe to be unwarranted—to be particularly saddening. In 2013, I certainly didn’t expect him to take the positions he did. I can’t agree with his assessment of the Pope, and could not support him now.