Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

This week: Astonishing responses in a time of crisis

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 27, 2020

Another week dominated by news about the CO19 epidemic; another week without access to the sacraments. These are distressful times, and we are facing troubles that we could not have imagined, even a few weeks ago. As this troubled week moved toward a close, a couple of headlines truly looked surreal:

Bishops advising Catholics to ease up on their Lenten sacrifices. As I remarked to the Daily Caller, “In time of trouble, the time-honored Catholic response is to call for more prayer and fasting, not less.” But in Metuchen, New Jersey, Bishop James Checchio said that the rule for meatless Fridays during Lent would be lifted, in light of the “many other sacrifices that we are suddenly experiencing.” Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley took the same astonishing step. It’s inconceivable (well, at least until this week I would have thought it was inconceivable) that a Catholic bishop would advise his people to pray a bit less. Yet in traditional Catholic practice, prayer and fasting are inextricably linked, particularly during Lent. (Actually there are three elements to the traditional Lenten routine: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Would any bishop suggest that Catholics should be less generous during the epidemic?) I’m searching for the place in the Gospel where our Lord says that “this kind is cast out only by cheeseburgers.”

The other surreal headline was actually on an editorial in the New York Times —not just a routine unsigned editorial, but one endorsed, with an unusual invocation of authority, by the editorial board of the New York Times. The headline conveys the idea: Make Abortion More Available During the Pandemic—Not Less. The secular liberal establishment never lets a crisis go to waste, never misses an opportunity to seize the offensive. But the crass insensitivity of this argument is astonishing. At a time when the specter of death hovers over New York, the city’s most influential newspaper calls for: more death.

In a climate of hysteria, a fresh and balanced perspective—in particular, a distinctly Catholic perspective—is especially valuable. So I’m pleased to pass along something from Thomas More College, where I’m now teaching part-time. It’s a very small school, very strongly imbued with the spirit of a Catholic community of learning, and it was painful for everyone—students, faculty, and staff—when state regulations forced the college to close. But in this message to the college community, President William Fahey provided some reasons for hope, along with some useful reminders of how Catholics respond to crisis.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Mar. 29, 2020 4:17 AM ET USA

    The actions of Checchio and O’Malley are exactly the opposite of the leadership we need from our bishops now. Most members of their flocks are already blowing off even the much-reduced Lenten requirements of the modern Church. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

  • Posted by: servantofchrist - Mar. 28, 2020 10:48 AM ET USA

    RE: Meatless Fridays in Boston Archdiocese, it's important to note that Cardinal O'Malley is encouraging "those who can partake of this traditional Lenten practice of abstention to do so and to offer it up for those who are suffering in any way from the pandemic we are experiencing." As noted on his website, this was only waived because of the fact that some people are unable to get the groceries they need due to the situation in Massachusetts, as outlined in the statement.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 28, 2020 10:30 AM ET USA

    I have not listened to President Fahey’s message yet. But this is the sort of thing I am hopeful to see more often from Catholic Culture and you and Jeff. Please offer practical solutions to the problems we face in addition to pointing out how and why there is bad. And if you can’t find a solution, offer hope through asking others for possible solutions.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 27, 2020 9:15 PM ET USA

    One of the most unusual facts of this pandemic, is that it completely passes over children, even very young children who show not much more than the signs of a cold for a few days. By way of comparison, I just read a 2005 medical study on the Spanish Flu, a disease that killed children at a rate 5 times greater than the general population. Our elites, evidently, want to even up the score by encouraging abortion. The NY Times has always been passionate about affirmative action.