The Health-First Heresy

Indefinite suspension of its sacramental life is never a legitimate option for the Church, any more than an indefinite fast from food and water is an option for the human body, the diktats of secular authorities notwithstanding.

(Image: engin akyurt | Unsplash.com)

“Of all the sad and surreal things to happen in the past few months,” writes Mary Wakefield in The Spectator, “the Catholic church’s decision to abandon the dying was, for me, the worst.” Wakefield goes on to explain just how incompatible she finds the COVID-related actions of Catholic and Anglican prelates with the sacramental faith they profess to hold. The money quote comes at the end of this paragraph:

On 5 April, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement entitled ‘Revised Hospital Chaplaincy Advice’, which after a paragraph of prevarication produced one clear sentence: ‘Priests and chaplains must follow the visiting instructions from hospital and trust authorities.’ Given that the visiting instructions in hospitals were not to visit at all, this, for the most part, put paid to anointing of the sick (or extreme unction), the sacrament that we’re told has the effect of uniting the sick person with Christ, giving them the strength, peace and courage to endure suffering, forgiving their sins and preparing them for eternal life. Priests can offer telephone support instead, said the bishops. Always good to chat when you’re on a ventilator.

I read Wakefield’s commentary shortly after reading a story from Guam about a hospital security guard fired from his job for bringing in a priest to minister to a dying woman. The hospital had forbidden such visits, but the man put the obligations of faith and the deepest needs of the patient ahead of his obligation to his employer. The first priest he contacted preferred to pass by on the other side, so to say, and would not violate hospital rules. Fortunately another was found, who came to administer the last rites. The man himself was not so fortunate. It was his last week on the job.

It is more shocking that bishops think pastoral visits to the dying inessential than that hospital administrators do. Yet the apathy and even the animosity of secular authorities to the practice of Christianity is not to be overlooked either, or the fact that some are taking advantage of the health crisis in order to display it. Churches are not only regarded as providing no essential service, they are not even treated on a par with other non-essential services. Nor, it seems, can they be confident of relief from the courts. The United States Supreme Court, for example, recently turned a blind eye to the State of Nevada’s discrimination against churches in the Calvary Chapel case. While Justice Gorsuch wrote in dissent that ”there is no world in which the constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel,” it seems that there is indeed such a world. And to make things worse, there are, as Wakefield points out, Christian leaders who seem oddly content with it.

In Let the Dead Bury their Dead I criticized those leaders, critiquing what I called the COVID commandment, which manages to turn “love thy neighbour” into “avoid thy neighbour, lest thou make him sick (or he thee).” I want now to take that criticism further, directing it to what I will call the health-first heresy.

Anatomy of a heresy

The health-first heresy seems to have broken out quite spontaneously with COVID itself. It required no heresiarch to cultivate it other than the human fear of suffering and death. Its tell-tale mark is the claim, implicit or explicit, that care for the body trumps care for the soul. A correlative feature, scarcely less visible, is the Rousseauian thesis that the body belongs to the state and is ruled by the state, which will decide for everyone what can and cannot be done in the body – even to the determination of the availability or unavailability of Christian sacraments.

Even in the Church, this deeply disordered anthropology and political philosophy has begun to supplant the truth, which is that the body ought to be ruled by the soul and the soul by God. Here care for the body, whether one’s own body or the body of one’s neighbor, should always have care of the soul as its proper end. It is inconceivable that the former care should be determined independently of the latter. What makes Christian charity Christian is not simply that it is done in love, but that it is done also for love. The body is loved for the sake of the soul, which exists to love and enjoy God. The body follows the soul to just that end. Hence “glorify God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:20) is the rule of thumb, both in life and in death. It is also a rule of the Mass and of all the sacraments, by means of which the soul communes with its Lord in and through the body.

But might care of the body, as many now contend, sometimes require suspension of the Mass, of the public ministry of word and sacrament, of the common prayer through which the soul is nourished and cared for and the Church itself maintained? I don’t mean a temporary, ad hoc suspension, which can occur for any number of reasons: incapacity or incarceration of the requisite ministers, want of a viable meeting place, the ravages of war or deadly pestilence, for example; just as such things may prevent individuals from attending Mass, they may on rare occasions prevent whole communities from holding Mass. I mean rather a general and indefinite suspension of Mass for fear of bringing on some such disaster, which is what fear of the coronavirus has produced in many places and (despite mounting evidence that it is not the deadly pestilence it was cracked up to be) is still producing even now.

The answer is No. A general and indefinite suspension of Mass for preventive purposes is a triumph of the health-first heresy, where “health” means merely physical security and “first” means that care for the body is no longer directed to care for the soul but prioritized over it. I call this a heresy (using that word informally) for two reasons.

First, because it is a denial of the Christian doctrine of man, which insists not only that man is a rational animal who may know something of God, but also that this animal is ultimately a eucharistic animal. Humans are called in Adam, in Abraham, and finally in Jesus Christ, to present themselves together with all the saints in the presence of God, to offer thanks before God and to behold his glory. This is their “reasonable service” and indeed their raison d’être (see Romans 1–12 and the letter to the Hebrews). The goals of disease prevention cannot be prioritized over this corporate act of worship without standing man, and the entire cosmos, on its head. Communion can be brought to the sick rather than the sick to communion, yes; but the corporate act of communion cannot, as a matter of course, be denied to the healthy or confined to the clergy (whether in camera or on camera) without upending the Christian view of man and the world.

Second, because prioritizing disease-prevention over corporate worship of God is no different in principle than prioritizing persecution-prevention over corporate worship of God. This point is more controversial and will require more elaboration, but first a word about neighbor love.

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor? It is tempting to reply that it’s rather difficult to tell these days, since he’s likely wearing a mask. If he’s not wearing a mask, one is advised to cross the road and pass by on the other side. And if perchance he is seen disembarking from a car with an out-of-state plate, well, he’s definitely not a neighbor and shouldn’t be on the road at all. He should just stay home, like everybody else!

Is this not how we have begun to think? We don’t think like the good Samaritan in the parable by which Jesus answered the question. For, truth be told, health first really means me first. The neighbor now appears, if he appears at all, in the role rather of the thief or ruffian who, by his carelessness if not his callousness, might steal my health and leave me in a ditch.

Now, perhaps on the whole it is not quite so bad as that. But honesty compels us to admit that loving the neighbor through lockdowns – complete with suspension of public worship, wherein he is no longer merely a neighbor but a brother in Christ – is neither a good way to serve his soul nor even a good way to serve his body. For we can’t weigh the latter service without considering the principle of proportionality, which the general lockdown is violating by generating serious political, economic, medical, and psychological harms. Though these may not be much noticed by the privileged, at least not for the moment, they are devastating to the poor and needy, especially in countries to the south of us where so many live hand to mouth, completely dependent on the day’s meagre wages.

In these harms, including the extended-care débâcle here at home and our rising rates of suicide, we wealthy and comfortable Christians are complicit by reason of our ready cooperation both with panicking politicians and with Canute-like health authorities, who (having missed King Canute’s lesson) are possessed of the fancy that they can control the ebb and flow of viral tides by issuing draconian stay-at-home orders. Cynical shutdown opportunists have taken advantage of those orders – orders conducive to cycles of poverty and despair, and increased dependence on the state, while saving very few from premature death – to increase their leverage over citizens and states alike. The political and economic consequences remain difficult to calculate. But given the certainty of more severe trials to come, we must assume that they will be considerable.

Our cooperation, which involves cancellation of many of our own charitable activities, helps to legitimize all this. It does absolutely nothing, on the other hand, to challenge our society’s misplaced priorities, its criminal neglect of the elderly, and its grotesque culture of death. Abortion and euthanasia remain “essential services” while public worship of Almighty God is deemed inessential and indeed undesirable? Surely this “neighborly” generosity of ours has only strengthened the hands of those who hate us, and who secretly despise the weak and the vulnerable! Is that not what happens when we lose track of first principles, and of doxology as the principium principiorum? For it is the love and praise of God that produces love of neighbor, not the other way round.

Obeying God by obeying man?

Let us turn to the second and more controversial point. It is not only said that the suspension of public worship, in which God is openly adored, can be justified on the basis of neighbor-love and good citizenship. It is also said that our motivation for cooperating thus with the state, just because it is medical as well as political, exonerates us from any charge that we prefer to obey man rather than God. God instructs us to meet together in his Name, to be sure, for the most holy sacrifice of the Mass. But has God not instructed us also to respect human authority, which in its pursuit of the common good rightly considers health and safety regulations to fall within its remit and, at least to that extent, the oversight of public gatherings? Where word and sacrament are suspended simply because the authorities disapprove of them, that is preferring to obey man rather than God. Where they are suspended in keeping with public health orders, however, God is being obeyed by way of legitimate obedience to man.

This too is false, however. Not because facts on the ground (as I intimated in the opening section of this essay) increasingly demonstrate that the distinction may be a mere nicety, a distinction without a difference. That might render it false here, but not there. No, it is false everywhere because nothing that falls within the proper remit of secular authorities touches the basic obligation of man to worship God or the libertas ecclesiae by which Christ is honored and proclaimed in the Holy Eucharist. The Church itself cannot touch this obligation but is duty-bound to carry it out. Surely we do not need the pastors of Calvary Chapel or of Grace Community Church to remind us of that which is always right and just, always fitting and our bounden duty? And “the Church,” as already observed, does not mean its clergy only, or its clergy for its laity. Away with such clericalism, which the Second Vatican Council rightly rebuked in all four of its major constitutions!

I say again: Indefinite suspension of its sacramental life is never a legitimate option for the Church, any more than an indefinite fast from food and water is an option for the human body, the diktats of secular authorities notwithstanding. We must expect such diktats from time to time. They have been with us from the beginning (Acts 5:28) and will be with us to the end. Indeed, at the end of the age word and sacrament will first be corrupted, when the man of lawlessness sits in templo Dei (2 Thess. 2:4), then universally forbidden. Why? For the same reason that has led to their corruption or suppression from time to time during the age: because they are the basic means by which the life of the Church is sustained, and therefore a target of those who take offense at the Church or wish to subdue her. That these means should sometimes be withdrawn indefinitely from individuals by the Church’s severe mercy (that is, in excommunication) makes sense. That they should be withdrawn from the Church itself, from the faithful, makes no sense at all, save to the godless state and to those who harbor animosity toward the Church.

In a wartime blackout the faithful may have to get to and from church without lights, and celebrate Mass in the crypt. In a pandemic it may have to hold Masses outdoors, or with various other burdensome adjustments. But if the task of publicly proclaiming the gospel and administering the sacraments can legitimately be declined or prohibited, the Church has been divided against itself in the most fundamental of ways. How then will it stand? If, to help stave off the risks of our common mortality, the Church agrees to withhold the medicine of immortality to which it alone has access, what is to prevent it from finding a whole series of reasons – all decided, no doubt, in the public interest – for maintaining that posture just a little longer or for taking it up again? The health-first heresy, let it be said, has many sisters. It belongs to a large tribe of pressing public-interest claims. But shall the Church, at the behest of one or another of that tribe, take direction from the state in so high a matter as the holding of Mass or the conduct of other sacraments? No! It must everywhere and always insist on the right to make its own judgments and to do what God has asked of it. Otherwise it shares in the mystery of lawlessness, which Paul tells us is already at work (2 Thess. 2:7).

Getting the church/state dialectic right

From a Catholic perspective, the Rev. John MacArthur and the pastors of Grace Community Church are wrong about a good many things, but they are not wrong about the basic dialectic that must govern church/state relations. On the one hand, “God has ordained human government for the peace and well-being of temporal society… We are to submit to them in the sphere as to which God has designed them to operate. We are to honor them.” On the other hand, the state’s mandate to contain the spread of infectious diseases or to prevent civil disorder or to pursue peace rather than war, etc., while worthy of all respect, does not extend to matters essential to the Church of Jesus Christ and its ambassadorial mission. That is sovereign territory.

Therefore, in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.

Their conclusion is not invalidated by the fact, as Leo XIII reminded us in Immortale Dei, that there are matters which belong, in different ways, to both church and state. The welfare of families, the education of the young, care for the vulnerable – many illustrations might be supplied where the interests of the two overlap and their respective jurisdictions create tensions requiring negotiation. But Leo’s reminder was to the same effect. The state must leave sufficient room for the unique mandate of the Church and for its own prudential judgments in all these spheres.

Take, for example, a relatively simple matter such as zoning laws. Surely the creation of zoning laws is a proper function of the state, requiring the deference of churches even when it impinges on their need for meeting places. (Would that Protestants had kept that in mind in Prague in 1618!) But if a state, say, as presently in China, creates and enforces zoning laws that result in the bulldozing of churches where worship has not been sufficiently Sinicized, is that state still operating within its God-given mandate? Is it leaving room for the Church to be the Church? Of course not. It must be resisted by prayer and all morally licit means, including costly civil disobedience.

Likewise, then, when the state, as presently in California, requires churches to cease meeting altogether or imposes other disabling conditions upon them that violate their own God-given mandate and jurisdiction; that it does so in the name of COVID-prevention rather than of the Communist Party does not excuse it. Churches must carry on doing what they are divinely called to do, even if for a time they are forced to do it secretly rather than openly, or through tribulation and legal travail. Whether the state’s objective is political unity, religious conformity, economic power, or health and safety makes no difference where the ministry of word and sacrament are at stake.

Abandoning the empty dream of a neutral state

In Rome these days, alas, that is no longer understood, at least not where is China concerned; bad-faith negotiations continue while in far away places ecclesial rights are trampled and churches demolished. In North America, however, where things are not quite so dire, there have been signs lately that Catholics, like Protestants, are plucking up the courage to confront state overreach, even if that courage falls far short of what their Chinese brethren have shown.

Admitting that partnership with the state during the pandemic has not proved an exercise in mutual respect for the common good, but rather an exercise in betrayal by the state, Cardinal Lacroix last week voiced an emotional plea to Quebec authorities: L’état est laïc, mais la société ne l’est pas! “The state is secular, but society is not! … Please, let us breathe!”

But note well: If the Church really is to breathe, it will have to resist vigorously both the health-first heresy and the suffocating myth of the secular state. For the state cannot in fact be laïc; that is, altogether neutral or non-confessional, untouched by religion and unengaged with religion. Its pretence of neutrality, as I tried to show in Desiring a Better Country, only serves to obscure the state’s actual commitments, which – where laïcité or some other radical form of church-state separation is professed and pursued – are bound to produce such betrayals.

A properly Christian concern for the vulnerable – for the unborn that are aborted daily in their thousands and tens of thousands, for the elderly who have died unattended in “care” homes, for the poor who have been deprived of their livelihoods, for the sick who have been refused treatments or operations, for the lonely who are being offered assisted-suicide as a solution – does not come from nowhere. Neither does a genuine appreciation for religious freedom. These things are not neutral at all, but the consequence of a biblical and eucharistic world view that the state refuses to own or even to acknowledge.

It is precisely where people have been taught to believe in the neutral state, and to cede to this state full responsibility for education and health care, that these things are disappearing. It is precisely there that the health-first heresy can take hold and the Church be asked to embrace it. Why wouldn’t care for the body trump care for the soul, within a state or regime that insists on being so “neutral” as to decline to affirm or deny that human beings actually have souls? That such a state regards the medicine of immortality, and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as something purely esoteric and inessential – perhaps even as corrosive or subversive, which is how Rousseau himself regarded it – is hardly a wonder. That it treats churches with the disdain to which Cardinal Lacroix objects is no surprise. That its subjects, in whom forgetfulness of the Great Deliverance has been systematically cultivated, are again “subject to life-long bondage” through fear of death (Heb. 2:15) is only to be expected. That even many Catholics, themselves half-blinded by this “strong delusion” (2 Thess. 2:11), have succumbed is little more remarkable.

So, if we are looking for heresiarchs, perhaps we may fix after all on those who are chiefly responsible: the men of the Enlightenment who brought us their grand experiment in liberal reason and the neutral state, and those churchmen who have mistaken that experiment for a success, compounding the problem of betrayal by the state with betrayals by the churches themselves – the kind of betrayal that so distresses Mary Wakefield, wherein even bishops show themselves more scrupulous about hygiene than about holiness, about human liturgies of disease-prevention than about the divine liturgies of human salvation.

That the latter can save body and soul together, while the former cannot even save the body, does not seem to have occurred to them. They are worried about becoming men without lungs, but their susceptibility to the health-first heresy suggests that they are already men without chests, in C. S. Lewis’s phrase. They lack Christian instincts for what is truly good and for what really matters. They lack the Christian heart by which a Christian head ought to rule the mortal body, with its mortal fears. They look and sound more and more like other denizens of the secular state, uncertain whether souls, if they exist, actually matter.


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About Dr. Douglas Farrow 21 Articles
Douglas Farrow is Professor of Theology and Ethics at McGill University, and the author of several books including Theological Negotiations: Proposals in Soteriology and Anthropology (Baker Academic, 2018) and a new commentary on Thessalonians (Brazos, 2020).

30 Comments

  1. Dr Farrow has done a Great Service to Catholic’s with this essay.In our little town of only 7000 souls.Every “POT” Shop was deemed a essential service by our States Governor.
    Not so for our Parish and Church’s within our little 2.37 square mile area.Much worse I fear is to come.As we now have 5 of these within the City Limits.While we can barely allow a small percentage of the faithful to attend MASS.Whats wrong with this picture?

    • Effeminate men allowed into the priesthood a while back or more recently? If not effemination, what? So much demonic suppression of our most innate sensibilities in the name of . . . compassion, justice, fairness. Oy.

  2. AMEN! I am very concerned for the Church and Christians going forward. How is keeping the Sabath Holy and Mandatory Catholic Mass attendance obligations required if the Church deleted that obligation for months across the world? Thanks for your accurate assessment of this COVID 19 situation!

  3. As a convert, I wondered about and questioned the ease in which the Eucharist was withheld from early March. Jesus is the healer. Even with little faith we can be confident in this and continue receiving Him, eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, no? He is allowing it though so I have been asking Him what He is trying to tell us, His church.

  4. This is a rich treatment of the question of material versus spiritual sovereignty in the universe, related to faith. We seem to oblige the secular prohibitions in deference to those whose faith is not yet ‘perfect enough’ (much less those who have none at all). It is then compassion and a cross to oblige materialists, who don’t even know why they are generally right on the precautions (>the majority is in fact composed of imperfect faith). The ‘faithful enough’ (the ‘spiritualists’; those who know ‘the spiritual is the seat of reality, not the material’) are always a minority, even within the Church, ‘the seven per cent’. Besides, we know how it all turns out, nothing will destroy the Church, even if she shrinks again to just five persons who know what rules.

    A friend pointed out today that the sacrament does not and cannot of itself convey impurity, ie covid. But the hand that proffers it might… How closely divine and human make contact! How fine the razor… Should we fill our churches with asps and remind all that only those with true faith will not suffer death when the bite appears?

  5. A well argued premise doesn’t always address the complete reality. First Mary Wakefield’s “the Catholic church’s decision to abandon the dying was, for me, the worst” doesn’t cover all the bases of research. She’s making an understandable lament. True in Britain [Mary Elizabeth Lalage Wakefield is a British journalist] most dioceses fit Dr Farrow’s findings, and Mary Wakefield’s lament. The Facts. N Italy lost approx 100 irreplaceable priests most attending Covid 19 patients most priests elderly with underlying conditions. Most dioceses in the US have a clergy average age of 65 and older, many with underlying conditions. Lose one here in W NYS and you lose several parishes. That’s equivalent to one pastor with one or no priest assistant required to cover consolidated parishes because of dearth in manpower. And importantly to counter Dr Farrow’s supposition priests in NYC, New York State have been given permission sometimes tacitly expressed to attend patients “where required”. Priests mostly younger and healthier have gained permission to anoint patients dressed in hazmat gear. And then there’s the preventative barrier of quarantine of nursing homes and many hospitals. We can’t force our way into those med facilities. Although here is where Dr Farrow’s argument on the tension between State and Church has the greatest validity that bishops must confront. Too many are complying without taking any measures to negotiate even demand and perhaps disregard State mandate when it’s evident the Church has a viable opportunity to make her priests available to the faithful [St Charles Borromeo followed the Spanish governor of Milan’s prohibitive edict to shut down churches during the plague but nevertheless found ways to circumvent restriction]. If more had done so [perhaps Catholicism’s unique history in Britain is a factor that needs revisiting] Mary Wakefield might not have written that article as it was.

    • Added to my comment virtually all priests have been available for confession per request and following offer the Eucharist. A bishop cannot lawfully prevent a priest in good standing to hear a confession when required.

    • This where the church as denied those called to ministry have been denied by the male dominated clergy, Jesus said built my church , no instructions where mentioned or ideas of how it should function, what is and has become the norm is, has been informed designed by man assuming this is what Jesus wanted.

      • Robert, Jesus had plenty of women in his ministry, maybe a look at the New Testament is in order for you. The truth and love of God and for one another was a blueprint for Christianity .

    • Fr. Peter, I wish I had known earlier that I was reading a fellow Rochesterian! Your words have a ring of truth and reason. Our former primate left this diocese in a near-missionary state. The guidelines we follow are there as much to protect the shepherds as the sheep—moreso, given the much higher proportion of the vulnerable among those shepherds. Given the similarities of what the Church here would have mandated, antagonizing the State with alternate guidelines seems unnecessary.

      Now, the next test-bed for further action will come with the reopening of schools in a few weeks. If the virus response is weak, I don’t see us sitting still for maintained restrictions on the Church. Well, not myself anyway.

  6. The Christian (R.C. and C and E) supine acquiescence to the secular hysteria about the “pandemic” is in keeping with their virtual silence relating to attacks on Christian institutions and values throughout the world. The Vatican is more concerned with the weather than the destruction of our Christian culture and heritage. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no conception of how to defend the faith. Both organisations seem to support the Left’s sponsorship of uncontrolled immigration and identity politics which will inevitably lead to the destruction of our society.
    Our Martyrs died in vain.

  7. Wish those billionaires with money to promote sins against life and purity , to thus lead to the massive breaking of the seals of hell , to let out the larvae of demonic clouds to rain down all sorts of evils , would instead look into measures that seem not that difficult to help contain and eradicate it , in indoor spaces .

    Instead of fancy autos and robots , focusing on efforts to look and promote rather proven technology such as the advanced Far UV-C light , more HEPA filters , just simple existing air cleaner technology and machines with UVC light in more places , to help clean the closed indoor spaces ..

    surprised that , the Govt . too has not given this area lot more importance !

    Promoting much wider use of simple agents that can help boost the immune systems , such as varied forms of Magnesium and other agents such as turmeric , ginger – ? even handing them out , in some tasty form , along with the temp check and encouraging families to join the modified Daniel fasting of more use of lentils , greens and related items …

    The Jewish nation has such veneration for the Wailing wall where the Holy of Holies is said to have been … we can be grateful that , many churches allow persons to come and sit in front of the tabernacle ..or even outside , for those who do not want to go in …

    The little interest in same may be the true indicator of the faith ..
    and that is not due to Vat. 11 or other similar ‘usual ‘ suspects 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khIi4X7qOd0

    Interesting video above, on the ‘modern version of the Interior Castles ‘ based on the choices and time spent watching T.V . , which could also point more to the root of the issue at hand in the article as well .

  8. Bravo to the author!!! The Bishops gave up too much for too long without even a whimper. I watched in envy as some of our Protestant and Evangelical brothers finally decided to confront the govt head on, with lawsuits or, outright defiance. Yet we heard only crickets from our Bishops in the meanwhile. Ditto when Catholic churches and statues were attacked, the faithful got more pleas for “understanding” and lectures about non-existent “racism”. Except for one or two Bishops , no condemnation was expressed for the mobs. Regarding covid the church could have made the sensible decision to ask its oldest priests to remain safely in the rectory and send out the younger for Last Rites. The biggest offense was in the Dioceses which chose not only to cease Mass and the sacraments, but to LOCK the churches (like in Diocese of Patterson) to even private prayer before the blessed sacrament. THAT was unconscionable.It has been noted that to the vast majority, this disease is NOT what it was cracked up to be. Any layman could see the economic havoc being wrought on the church through parishioners too frightened to return, and the resultant loss of revenue which weakened the churches ability to maintain a public moral face. Many catholic schools have closed in the Covid aftermath. I am not so certain that this was not by design of the left , rather than an unexpected side effect. The Bishops will have a lot to account for.

  9. Excellent article Dr. Unfortunately our Bishops in the United States have acted like sheep to the States’ demands. Where I live, it’s as if we have to jump through Caesars Hoops to be able to properly worship, and even then, Mass is so restricted that you may as well stay home and watch it from home. Did not Jesus say that we are to render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to render to God that which belongs to God?

  10. We have to strike back at any and all restrictions, even mask requirements and capacity limitations. One thing leads to another. In this case, there just isn’t any middle ground and there is no negotiating with the enemy, as much as I like to wish that there could be a solution that would satisfy everyone. The little persecutions lead to the big persecutions that are already ongoing in many parts of the world, particularly China. We have to resist while we still have a chance and the window of opportunity is quickly closing. Our churches truly need to be sovereign territory not controlled by civil authorities or weak clergy who merely take orders from civil authorities.

  11. Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, one begins to wonder whether the “indefinite suspension of sacramental life” will ever be lifted, and if so, just how many years or decades it will take. At the age of 65 and in poor health, I am reconciling myself to the notion that I may never meet the Lord again in the flesh in this life. How many local parishes will be forced to close before the lockout is unlocked?

    • I am also in the Chicago archdiocese. The cynical thought occurs, that Covid may be a godsend to administrators who can now consolidate parishes and close schools with much less fuss than they expected. Remember the priest who spoke, in 2018, of “Mary cleaning her Son’s church like a Mom, looking into every corner”? Perhaps it’s underway.

    • There was plenty of courage at our little church this morning. A huge attendance and folks overflowing outside because of the occupancy rules at Mass.
      We have had a couple diocesan priests trained to anoint the sick during the entire Covid outbreak.

  12. “The health-first heresy seems to have broken out quite spontaneously with COVID itself.”

    There is evidence that certain limited measures were approved of (or at least consented to) by at least some Church authorities back during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

    “A correlative feature, scarcely less visible, is the Rousseauian thesis that the body belongs to the state and is ruled by the state, which will decide for everyone what can and cannot be done in the body – even to the determination of the availability or unavailability of Christian sacraments.”

    Did Rousseau actually believe that people’s bodies belong to the state or is this an extension of his false principles? Given that government believes that it can compel people to get vaccinated, and that this has been going on since the 1850s one shouldn’t be surprised at the current unjust state actions.

    Ultimately this is a denial of the existence of natural rights. For all of the talk about rights, in practice (even way back) they haven’t been understood and/or respected. Why has this been the case? Probably because this country started out as Protestant, and for some reason Catholics have not “stepped up to the plate.” Although the Church is primarily for the salvation of souls, the fact that unjust laws exist should give Her the incentive to properly inform humans for conscience sake and to help contribute to the common good.

    “The answer is No. A general and indefinite suspension of Mass for preventive purposes is a triumph of the health-first heresy, where “health” means merely physical security and “first” means that care for the body is no longer directed to care for the soul but prioritized over it. I call this a heresy (using that word informally) for two reasons.”

    Prevention is a hallmark of totalitarianism. Actually, there can be no licit suspension of all gatherings. This is because there is an inalienable natural right to freely associate.

    The care of the body has ranked relatively low in the Catholic understanding. Mortification and fasting are positive spiritual practices. A cold shower really helps quell at least a man’s procreative powers.

    “But has God not instructed us also to respect human authority, which in its pursuit of the common good rightly considers health and safety regulations to fall within its remit and, at least to that extent, the oversight of public gatherings?”

    See my thoughts above concerning this. I would add that the right to just revolution is a ready made example for why this right can’t be infringed.

    “But if the task of publicly proclaiming the gospel and administering the sacraments can legitimately be declined or prohibited, the Church has been divided against itself in the most fundamental of ways. How then will it stand?”

    It will only stand with disobedience. This is one of those times when it would be not wrong to disobey the state.

    “It must be resisted by prayer and all morally licit means, including costly civil disobedience.”

    For the courageous, UNCIVIL disobedience is a better policy because it attracts more attention. This would include breaking the unjust law against resisting arrest. It may be necessary for people to help each other accomplish this successfully. It would be important to disarm the police employing unjust violence to avoid serious injuries.

    “Whether the state’s objective is political unity, religious conformity, economic power, or health and safety makes no difference where the ministry of word and sacrament are at stake.”

    When one is taking about the Eucharist and the spiritual benefits of attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then the governments’ unjust laws needn’t be obeyed.

    “That even many Catholics, themselves half-blinded by this “strong delusion” (2 Thess. 2:11), have succumbed is little more remarkable.”

    I am not that surprised given that there are many uninformed or malicious so-called “Catholics.” You are probably aware of the awful surveys which have shown what kind of beliefs on basic moral issues (e.g. abortion, contraception, etc.) self-identified “Catholics” have. If not, I suggest that you check them out.

    Somehow I was spared the abuse of “Catholic” schools. (I attended public schools.) Every one of my three siblings who went to a “Catholic” parish school through 8th grade are now Protestants.

  13. Here is where we are heading: “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.” –Catechism 675

  14. I wish I were smart enough to understand this article. I don’t find a health first heresy in the actions of anyone restricting the conditions for indoor mass. What I see is an attempt to minimize the spread of a deadly virus. Church services have proven to be one of the more effective means of large scale spread of this sometimes fatal virus. For me, protecting my family and disabled family member, especially, is very important, as is the welfare of my neighbor. I feel that the Church authorities are rightfully concerned for their flock. Masses can be held outdoors? In hospitals the administrators have the responsibility to prevent spread of the virus to vulnerable patients via visitors, well intentioned or otherwise. For me this is actually the charity of Christ for one’s neighbor.

  15. When considering Church controversies, I find it illuminating to ask, “Is this how we would act if we really believed what the Catholic Church teaches?”

    From our acquiescence in the face of a million abortions a year for six decades, to pachamamas, to this response to COVID, the answer keeps coming up, “Not hardly.”

  16. The coronavirus pandemic has been poorly handled by this administration from the outset. Placing the responsibility with the governors created a patchwork approach where states were competing against each other for PPE resources. That mishandling has caused pain that has been felt far and wide and continues ’til this day. Moreover, the infections and deaths are spiraling so high showing a dismal forecast through year end of more than 200,000 lives lost. More than 1,000 per day. Dr. Blix recently admitted that we should have followed Italy’s lead by forcing an early total lock down. We acted too late even though early evidence by scientist’s warnings were clear. But, lets be realistic… A priest who is called to a deathbed and who is properly using COVID infection resistant materials must be allowed to administer extreme unction. That Priest must be considered equivalent to a first responder.

    • What forecast is that? Is it similar to the forecasts in March that said 2 million (or as high as 10 million) people were going to die?

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