Mass readings for the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe:
The kingdom of God is one of mutual concern and care. It is not one centred on the self, each looking after himself and his own. It is also not centred on this world, as Jesus states before Pontius Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.”
The surrender of the self to God, and to the service of neighbour and stranger is the royal road to sanctity. It follows in the pattern of Jesus Christ who today we confess as our king, that is, the one person who rules our lives. He is God’s Word incarnate, and now enthroned in heaven, signifying that what reigns is Truth in absolute terms, and Love eternally.
Being the faithful subject of Christ the King is more than saying, “sure, I believe in God,” but to seek truth, and defend it; to be guided by love and so to always seek the good for others.
Jesus says in the gospels, not all who say “Lord, lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven because saying you believe yet continuing to live your life effectively from unbelief means you are not on the way to sanctity—loving God with all of your being is being neglected in favour of worldly priorities.
And chief among the worldly priorities is ourselves.
In the myth of the Garden where Adam and Eve fell from grace, the serpent played on their fears and doubts. The serpent tells Eve that to eat the forbidden fruit is to become “like God” – and by inference, to do away with the need of God by being gods themselves, and so no longer worried about their dependence, their vulnerability. But, of course, eating the fruit led to the devastating knowledge of just how vulnerable they were, and so naked and afraid Adam and Eve hid from God.
Today we live in an unprecedented state of anxiety as we’ve been reminded of our vulnerability by the emergence of COVID-19. Spiritually speaking, most find themselves naked and afraid.
When I recollect the stories of my grandparents in the period of the Second World War, I remember them saying that there never was a time where they thought things were truly lost; as bad as the news was, they were confident that, in the words of Winston Churchill, they would “move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”
Watch the news, which I repeatedly warn you not to; but even read it as I do advise, and one can’t but be struck by how pessimistic many of our experts are, and the leading voices of our media. Christmas to be cancelled; with the coming of the long-expected vaccine, things we’re told won’t really change—keep your masks on regardless. There is all this talk now of the “new normal” which looks anything but normal as it goes well beyond better hygiene and staying home when sick—there are no sunny days to look forward to.
Now, as I am not a fan of broadcast news because from my own background, I know it is far more about emotion than reason, sensation that discernment, I nonetheless watched the CBC Friday night. Television news cannot help itself. It is a formula of interspersing government announcements, panel discussions reflecting a narrow segment of opinion, and heart-rending anecdotal stories of suffering and heroism. It’s standard fare, but I know how it affects people—the presenters and reporters and experts have all painted a bleak picture. I felt awful after watching the newscast.
But I had to recall myself to the fact that I read far more broadly on COVID-19 than I did at the start of this crisis; and so, I am a little more critical of what I’m being told. Not that I am an expert; but I know there are many experts in the world who offer different perspectives on, different approaches to our situation. As the full truth of things is something I should be after, I wonder why these aren’t part of the conversation.
Almost 7,000 scientists, virologists, and infectious disease experts recently signed a declaration critical of lockdown measures, because of the “irreparable damage” coming from the stress and anxiety caused by them, including despair caused by job loss, and a myriad of negative health issues that will take a far greater overall toll on human life than the number saved by the measures being taken. This corresponds with other research that concludes lockdowns will “destroy at least seven times more years of human life” than they save.
There is now the real possibility of another, deeper global food crisis, which will affect the poorest countries disproportionately, all because of the disruption of the food supply chain.
Yet for all this concern about long-term damage, I also know that there is a strong immediate sense that our healthcare system will not be able to cope much longer. It is difficult to predict how “cases” will translate into hospitalizations. I believe that anyone seriously ill should be cared for, and so, this concerns me.
I’m aware of the deficiencies of our healthcare system as a result of having a daughter treated for cancer. It worked well enough for us, but was already a stressed system before all this happened. This is a hard truth for us. We take such pride in our healthcare system, and I think an unhealthy and uncritical pride in it; and so now we suffer for it. Going forward, after this is all behind us, will we able to treat it less like something sacred and inviolable and more as something that needs to be fixed, whatever it takes?
As a parishioner said to me, I kindof agree with everyone’s opinon, and so that puts us here, between a rock and a hard place; and that is the place of prayer.
For this reason, we are going to be making a special effort this Advent to offer prayer through Wednesdays here, in Eucharistic Adoration—prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, adoration of our heavenly king.
I believe this can be offered with all due attention to established protocols. It is important for us to remember that our fate is not so much in the hands of experts, cabinet ministers, health officials and civic functionaries, but as with all things, we are in God’s hands, and in need of His guidance, and His peace.
And so, whatever, comes, we ought not to be afraid. Fear, as opposed to prudence in the face of danger, speaks of us placing too high a value on our lives, and too little trust in God.
COVID-19 is not nearly as deadly as first thought. We can visit the website of the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta and look at their statistics. Raw numbers often are misleading. Careful review will show it is deadly to those already seriously ill, accounting for 94 percent of all deaths; and that the younger you are, and the healthier you are now, the less susceptible you will be to the virus and its serious effects, the mortality rate falling to effectively zero.
I’m not stating this to encourage a blasé attitude, but to help us all with our perspective on this and so better assess our personal situation. We have members of our community who must decide whether or not to travel to see a dying parent in another city, for example. What should they do? Our children and grandchildren need a social life, require physical activity for both their health in mind and body, what is the best course of action? And so on. How do we best serve others with care, and prayer, and not be paralyzed by fear?
St. Henry Morse (1595-1645) was said to have contracted the plague three times during his ministry to the sick, and survived every time. When all the nobility of Milan fled during a plague, St. Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) remained and organized the feeding and care of the sick. It’s said that largely from his own purse he fed 60,000 people a day for months.
St. Marianne Cope (1838-1918) answered the call of the king of Hawaii to go with fellow sisters to Hawaii and serve the lepers alongside St. Damien of Molokai. Though many feared the disease then thought to be extremely contagious, Marianne assured her nuns that not one of them would contract it. Through strict hygiene practices and a good amount of grace, the Sisters worked with the lepers of Molokai for nearly a century without one of them contracting the terrible disease.
None of us may prove to be sufficiently saintly to enjoy a supernatural inoculation against COVID-19, but I would hope we remember our vocation of service to others, of witness to hope, of offer of prayer and of devotion to Christ our king.
My greatest fear for you, and for our society generally is to be spiritually broken by this, and so made vulnerable to even greater evils.
We must walk the right path through the valley of darkness, Christ with us, and so mercy and goodness following us all our days. For that will secure for us the blessed assurance that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.