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.)

Monday, March 9, 2020

On Those Who Sneer At the Lenten Practices of Others

Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, 
a day to afflict oneself? 
To bow one’s head like a reed, 
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes? 
Is this what you call a fast, 
a day acceptable to the Lord? 

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: 
releasing those bound unjustly, 
untying the thongs of the yoke; 
Setting free the oppressed, 
breaking off every yoke? 

Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, 
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; 
Clothing the naked when you see them, 
and not turning your back on your own flesh? 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, 
and your wound shall quickly be healed; 
Your vindication shall go before you, 
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:5–8)
Among anti-Catholic and anti-Francis Catholic critics, I see a similar kind of sneering going on, even though the mindsets of these groups are diametrically opposed. The similarities come through how they deride the penitential practices of Catholics. Either they mock the individual sacrifice as “shallow” or they mock something serious on the grounds that people shouldn’t treat sins as something you “give up for Lent.” And if a person should resolve to do something for Lent, the response is a mocking “well, why didn’t you do that earlier?”

It is true that some people can be shallow about a Lenten sacrifice, either making it so light or with so many exceptions as to be virtually meaningless. People can focus on giving up something and become unbearable to live with. People can wrongly approach “giving up sins for Lent” by thinking that they will take them up again after Easter. Some people take up practices for the wrong reason (“I’ll cut back on food to lose weight.”) Such people do need to be gently corrected.

But too often, the people who sneer seem to miss the point. When we give something up, or perform a practice, we do so to turn away from our past way of living and back to God. So, if giving up a certain pleasure helps us to say no to ourself when it leads us away from God, it is a good thing. If doing a good thing helps us to form practices that serve God the rest of the year, that is a good thing. And if we remember that “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NABRE), then Lent is a good time to repent of the sins we should have previously turned away from but have not managed to escape, with the intention of staying away (with God’s grace) to stay away after Lent ends.

We should keep in mind that not everyone is able to do the same things. A diabetic is not able to fast in the same way as one who is healthy. A person who loves meat will be harder hit by the rules of abstinence than the person who is vegan. The mother of young children might find it harder to say a decade of the Rosary than the unmarried do to say the whole thing. And a person who tries to use Lent as a time to try again to reject the sin he commits over and over out of love for God is trying to do more than the person who spends his time denouncing others for sins he has never been tempted by.

So, when we see a person approaching Lent differently than we think it should be done, let us not sneer or judge. The person might be shallow, or mistaken. But the person might be struggling with a trial greater than we can imagine.