One more CO-19 truth: People usually run true to type
It has been not only distressing but entertaining and instructive to see how much our actions and statements in response to the current pandemic run along in the same old groove. You can even see this in the points made by our various columnists in recent weeks—though our podcasts, thankfully, mostly have their own pre-arranged topics to explore. But the greatest proof of my thesis comes through a simple survey of the news over the past two days.
For example, governments around the world, which largely exist in modern times for the purposes of bureaucratic control, typically use the virus to advance their own ideological ends. Thus:
- China: As Wuhan restrictions ease, authorities forbid churches to reopen. Undoubtedly, churches will be the last entities to be permitted to return to normal, if they ever are allowed to do so.
- United States: Judges block states from limiting access to abortions during CO19 pandemic. Similarly, the right to murder the unborn must be the very last “medical procedure” to remain unrestricted.
In China and the United States, we normally see the Church accommodating government. The usual relationship is far stormier in some other places, and this too holds true under the aegis of the Coronavirus, where the habitual tensions lead to opposing patterns:
- Nicaragua: In Nicaragua, government promotes gatherings, while bishops suspend processions. “You say tomayto, I say tomahto” is the mantra in some Latin American countries, and of course when we see this particular juxtaposition, it makes us leery of blaming our own bishops for not reflexively taking the opposite tack!
- Kenya: Kenya’s bishops denounce police brutality in enforcing anti-virus measures. Government oppression and Catholic denunciation is fairly predictable here. In this case, it appears the government has used the public health measures as an excuse to increase its harassment of the citizenry.
Then there is the boring typicality of episcopal pronouncements on favorite political themes, all of which find a new lease on life each time something—anything!—happens. The desire of Church leaders to be players in socio-political affairs finds opportunity everywhere:
- United States: USCCB committee chairman praises, criticizes $2.2-trillion relief package. Here we see another USCCB committee chair with nothing better to do than to make sure everyone sees his oar swirling around in the prudential matters which are the province of the laity.
- Europe: Recommit to the European project and shun nationalism, leading EU cardinal says in CO19 statement. For a certain brand of prelate, everything that happens shows the endless danger of populism, over against the pristine beauty of Higher Government, and the more removed from home the better.
I hope it is clear that the continuation of predictable comment and action holds true for the good as well as the bad, depending on the motives and tendencies of each one of us. Well did the Preacher lament:
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun. [Eccl 1:8-9]
Sadly, this description remains disturbingly accurate. But it was given before Christ, in an age when hope was not yet so firmly grounded. As Christians we know that with work and grace we can actually do something new by becoming good if we are bad—and by becoming better even if we are already reasonably good (such a damning adverb!). If we take this knowledge seriously, we will respond even to pandemics in ways that surprise not only others but ourselves.
And as for Pope Francis, he has always placed a high value on comforting the afflicted:
- Pope Francis: ‘Trust in Divine Mercy and in St. John Paul II’s intercession’ in these difficult times
- Pope at audience: Christ offers ‘comfort in the midst of life’s tribulations’
It is also worth noting, for our spiritual comfort, that the Congregation for Divine Worship has published the prayers for a votive Mass in time of pandemic as well as a special prayer for use on Good Friday, which is important for us in a time when the Church’s public liturgical life is so significantly curtailed.
Yes, I know it was true to form for me to write this. It is certainly more of what might be called my habitual hopeful blame. Still, we all tend to respond to new things in old ways, and perhaps as often for worse as for better. For this reason, observed carefully, our habitual responses teach an important lesson. Reflecting, we may find good reasons to change.
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Posted by: koinonia -
Apr. 06, 2020 5:20 PM ET USA
Thank you for the insights.
Posted by: Northern Digger -
Apr. 04, 2020 8:00 AM ET USA
Thank you very much for ratifying the observation that the virus epidemic affords a bully pulpit for many. The Lord mandated us to act in many ways; "being gentle as doves and wise as serpents"is one of them.
Posted by: bkmajer3729 -
Apr. 03, 2020 7:59 PM ET USA
Outstanding! Sure but you have pointed out hope! Yes, Hope! Thanks, Jeff.