Providence, pandemic, and an examination of conscience

Last Sunday, citing Romans 8:28-29, I wrote: “The whole reason why God created this world of time, from the most distant galaxy to the tiniest microbe, has been to lead men to share in the life of the Son of God, to be ‘conformed to his image’; the completion of this work is eternal life. If we have any sort of adequate conception of the greatness of the work that God is undertaking in our regard, then we also can begin to grasp the reason for the greatness of the suffering involved. Indeed, St. Paul assures us: I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed. (Rm 8:18)”

Through his providence God directs everything in this world of time towards the completion of this work of forming his children after the likeness of Jesus Christ, but this work requires our active cooperation and it is achieved through the instrumentality of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which serves as the extension of Christ’s saving humanity, his mystical Body, throughout time.

Here we encounter another challenge to our acceptance of divine providence that bears directly on the pandemic.

I already mentioned in general an excessive tolerance for evil and weakness most Catholics have shown in opposing the litany of evils that have led to the destruction of family life. This spirit of compromise, in which almost everyone shares to one degree of another, is reason enough for sharing in a divine punishment like the pandemic. Nevertheless, the pandemic has struck the Church in a particular way, leading to the suspension and limitation of public worship.

This calls us to take stock of the grave evils that entered the life of the Church herself: the widespread practice of sodomy among the clergy and the widespread practice of contraception among the laity; open dissent against the teaching authority of the Church and contempt for the same; lack of vigilance on the part of bishops that has allowed for widespread heresy, which is neither named nor condemned as such; failure of priests to instruct the faithful and failure of parents to instruct their children in the faith; loss of faith in the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, preceded and followed by widespread irreverence at Mass and in Church, not to mention outright sacrilege in the handling of the Sacrament. All this has led to a widespread institutional collapse during the course of the past 60 years.

To tell the truth the evils outside and inside the Church today are so extensive, pervasive, and deeply rooted that no human being living on the earth is capable of addressing them; it is left now to the Lord to purify his Church.

If the visible Church, united to the sacred humanity of the Jesus Christ, is God’s instrument of salvation, throughout time, why does God allow so much corruption to enter into the life of his Church? If the sacraments of the Church are the principles means by which God communicates his saving grace to men, why does he allow the celebration of the sacraments to be suspended throughout almost the entire world? Those are the truly agonizing questions raised by the pandemic.

These are not questions that I can pretend to answer, but they are certainly calls to each one of us to live our faith on a deeper level and to seek holiness more ardently, to serve God’s plan of salvation in ourselves and others. We are now called to heroic trust in the merciful providence of God. Jesus, I trust in you!

Further, while I cannot pretend to answer the agonizing questions raised by the pandemic, I can offer a few reflections.

The sacraments are the ordinary means by which God begets, sustains, and revives the life of grace in us. If he closes the door for these ordinary means, then he will provide those who seek him with what they need by another means, especially if they have a devout longing for the sacraments themselves.

Next, the removal or restriction of access to the sacraments calls for an examination of conscience on how we have made use of these precious gifts of God.

Very often the sacraments have born little fruit in the life of the faithful because they have been take for granted, treated almost as a ´right’, been approached with little preparation and a lack of reverence.

The obligation to spend more time at home, besides directing attention to family life, should also be seen as an occasion for deepening the life both of personal and family prayer. Very often the sacraments do not bear fruit because the life of prayer is missing or anemic, or because the formation in the faith is lacking.

For the reception of the sacraments to be fruitful they need to be supported by a life of prayer, self-denial, and works or mercy. For their part, the sacraments give life and energy to prayer, self-denial, and works of mercy. These two sides of the Christian life mutually support each other and build each other up.

Now, as people find they are able to return to Mass, but on a limited basis, it is a time to discover that what was once thought of as a burdensome obligation is both a privilege and gift.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.