I was hoping to get a conversation started with my previous post. That definitely happened.
I was impressed with the general tone of the dialog. I did have to delete some comments for breaking my long-standing rules against insults and speculating on people’s motivations or what they really mean. But, overall, I saw thoughtful comments from people with differing opinions, and that’s a very good thing. I know this is a contentious issue, and that I set some folks on edge right off the bat with the sensational title. If you didn’t get a chance to wade through the nearly one thousand comments here on the blog and over on Facebook, I wanted to share some clarifications, requests, and considerations inspired by the combox.
Do I think I’m a martyr?
I apologize that it sounded to some as if I thought someone would be a martyr if he was to choose to go to Mass, contract the Coronavirus, and die. I do not believe that, and I didn’t say it in so many words. My intent was to highlight the fact that many martyrs have died to have access to the sacraments and have died protecting the Blessed Sacrament itself. That shows me that the sacraments are real, and that they are important enough that people have chosen martyrdom for them. Because I believe that, I am willing to accept reasonable risks to my health to have access to them. I understand that when one accepts risks to health, one is ultimately accepting the risk of death. I understand that there are risks to others as well, and I think we should take steps to mitigate those risks as much as possible.
If the sacraments are just symbolic then certainly they aren’t worth any risk at all. But if we believe what we say we believe, then the reward of the sacraments is worth some risk. And I’d argue that since the sacraments could all take place outside, with hand washing/sanitizing and social distancing, and without singing, the risks could be less than they are for going to the grocery store.
And the reward, seen from an eternal perspective is much much greater.
Isn’t this a “pro-life” issue?
No. Please, hear me out, but . . . NO. If you, like me, pray for an end to legal abortion of babies and legal euthanasia of the sick, disabled, and elderly, I beg you to stop using abortion debate jargon in other disagreements. Accusing someone of not being “pro-life” because they are comfortable with a different level of risk than you are isn’t appropriate. Invoking “bodily autonomy” against stay at home orders is an enormously bad idea if you actually care about the rights of the unborn.
Updated to add, from a response to a comment on FB,
Here’s my reasoning . . . from a practical standpoint, it’s being used in this particular case to shut down discussion. I say, here are my reasons for thinking what I think, and someone says, you can’t think that, you’re not pro-life! Which is not good conversation. By any metric, being “pro-life” can’t mean you think you can make it so no one will die. So what we should be discussing is risk, and what risks are worth taking for which people and for what rewards.
Second update: There is more on this subject in the comments.
Fine, call it what you will, but don’t you want people to NOT DIE?
Yes, I do want that. God wanted that. In the Garden of Eden, there was no death. But now, as a result of original sin, disease, decay, and death are a part of this life. By the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we have the hope of eternal life in heaven to look forward to, where there is no suffering and no death. But there’s just no getting around the fact that we are all at risk of death at all times from any number of causes. The question we are looking at now (whether we realize it or not) is just risk versus reward.
Before all this virus stuff, I chose to risk my own life and the lives of my children, other motorists, and passers by whenever I drove my car. But we considered that acceptable because the reward is high enough and the risk is low enough. The husband is “essential” and leaving the house to work. We consider that risk acceptable, because he is in healthcare and helping others, and he is earning a paycheck, which is useful for us at home. My seventeen year old son does the grocery shopping for us and for friends who aren’t willing or able to go themselves. There’s a risk, but the reward is food in the house.
So, now . . . the sacraments. If I knew that, for instance, the host was poisoned and I would certainly die, would I receive it? No. My faith does not require that of me. But certainly the sacraments are worth SOME level of risk. I believe that the sacraments are real and efficacious and that they are worth a risk at least equal to what I would accept to get money or food.
People who are more vulnerable to the virus, or those who live with or care for them, are able to accept less risk in all areas of life, and have always had recourse to a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass, and to acts of contrition and spiritual communion in lieu of confession and communion. I fully support that, and would certainly use those options myself, even were Masses available, if I or a loved one was sick.
The fact that some particularly vulnerable people will choose to take the risk of attending Mass is definitely a pastoral concern, but not being willing to trust the prudential judgment of individual adults and families leads to an impossible situation all around. If Masses are offered in an area, some vulnerable people will choose to come. If Masses aren’t offered in an area some people will travel to other dioceses and crowd Masses there, or leave for other rites or schismatic groups, or abandon the faith entirely. If we take responsibility for one, we have to be willing to take responsibility for the other as well.
Grocery stores are offering special shopping hours for seniors, with fewer people allowed inside. Surely we could come up with creative solutions for the sacraments as well. In important ways the logistics actually favor the sacraments, since, with the permission of the bishops, they could all potentially be moved outside, which appears to be safer than indoors, especially inside air-conditioned buildings. It’s less easy to move supermarkets outside.
What about particularly vulnerable priests? Do I want all priests to be dead?
I think individual bishops and priests should make individual decisions for individual circumstances. It’s possible that particular communities would be without their priest for his safety, but that seems preferable to a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t allow any priests to minister to their flocks. (The situation in my diocese.)
There’s a noteworthy disconnect in the general narrative here. Doctors and nurses who are working are heroes. (Agreed.) Grocery store employees and Grubhub drivers who are coming to work are also heroes. (Okay, sure.) But a priest who wants to observe safe practices as much as possible while still providing the sacraments and other pastoral care to his parishioners is considered reckless. “He might get the virus! He might spread the virus! He needs to stay home and stay safe!”
A priest willing to take risks to attend to the spiritual needs of those in his care is OF COURSE a hero. Perhaps the secular media can’t see that. But we should. And may God preserve all our priests. But a noble death in the service of others is a great consolation to those left behind. If we believe what we say we believe about eternal life then we allow priests to take risks and make heroic choices in the same way that doctors and nurses and Amazon delivery guys are doing.
Can’t I just be patient?
Yes. But, just so you know where I’m coming from . . . In Los Angeles, Masses can be attended by a priest and media support people only, church doors are locked, adoration is not permitted, confessions are allowed only in danger of death, drive up confessions are specifically prohibited, marriages and baptisms are not permitted, the faithful cannot visit the graves of their loved ones at Catholic cemeteries. Catholics face a stricter lock down here, in a city with 1500 deaths, than in New York City that has had over 21K deaths. Some of these restrictions are by government mandate, some are extra precautions taken by our bishops.
What I would like to see from our government is an acknowledgment that the practice of our faith is at least phase 2 essential. (It’s not currently considered so in California.) I’d like to see us politely advocating for that.
Can’t I just be obedient?
Sure. But, as I have not taken a vow of silence, obedience doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to say anything about it. My concern is twofold: the message the bishops are getting from the faithful, and the message the faithful are getting from the bishops.
First, the bishops are human and can be just as susceptible to the 24 hour news cycle as other people. The media narrative is that physical safety should be our number one concern. If our bishops believe that their top priority must be our physical safety above all else, then they are going to make decisions based on that. As of this weekend, church services are permitted by the state of Iowa (where my sister lives). But the bishops of Des Moines have decided to continue the suspension of all Masses throughout the state. They feel they cannot ensure the health and safety of all. Those bishops should hear us say: “Thank you for caring so much about us, but please allow your priests to come up with creative solutions. Allow individual priests and members of the faithful to assess the risk in their circumstances and decide how and if they receive the sacraments. We want you to care about the needs of our souls as much as our bodies.”
Which leads me to my other concern, which is that we know that the majority of buns in the pews already do not believe in the Real Presence. They already are not familiar with the Precepts of the Church. They already don’t avail themselves of confession. I wonder what will be the long term fallout from our bishops telling us: just watch the Mass on TV, just talk to God about your sins, there’s no hurry on baptism, you don’t have to receive communion during the Easter season. I believe in the authority of the pope to grant indulgences (and who loves and promotes indulgences more than I?!) and in the authority of the bishops to grant dispensations. But all of this that we believe about the sacraments is already so hard to believe, and actions speak so loudly. If the bishops tell us by their actions that the sacraments are not worth any level of physical risk, then that is the level of value the faithful will put on them, and then everything is just symbols and we are Protestants.
I want to hear them say, not, “Our priests are old and can’t risk their health,” but “We have a task force of young priests setting up mobile outdoor confessions for you.” Not, “All baptisms are cancelled,” but, “Baptisms are a priority, but we want to do them as safely as possible, so we are offering the old school practice of a baptism as soon as possible after birth with just the baby and the father and the priest and the godparents. We’re going to annoint, sprinkle, light the candle, and get out of there. No parties, but lots of removing of the stain of original sin.” This is a chance to witness to the fact that the sacraments are real and efficacious and that they are worth some level of risk to provide and obtain. And I’m worried that’s just not the message folks are getting.
Am I an idiot? Do I even know what I’m talking about?
I don’t know. Maybe to both. Pray for me.