Many Catholics have been unhappy with various bishops. The bishops have suspended public Masses, restricted access to the Eucharist, made it very difficult to go to Confession or get a child publicly baptized. Weddings are suspended, postponed or restricted to groups of less than 10 people. Funerals are likewise restricted, funeral Masses unsung.
The Catholics who have publicly expressed their unhappiness are doing so out of fear. They fear for their salvation, they fear dying unshriven, unsaved. Why did the bishops do these things? Are all of our bishops insane?
Listen to the voices of those in battle. Hear what they have to say:
Overfilled waiting rooms packed with people who are contagious. Patients waiting six hours to be seen. Others on stretchers waiting 50 to 60 hours for a bed. Doctors desperately trying to get more ventilators. That is what it’s like to be on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic at a public hospital in New York City, Dr. Rikki Lane, an emergency room doctor at the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, said.
“Our hospital has never, ever, ever seen anything like this,” said Lane, who has worked for more than 20 years at Elmhurst, a public hospital with 545 beds. Lane said the emergency department has been “overwhelmed” for about three weeks and the hospital is in desperate need of help as the coronavirus spreads across the city, which has become a fast-growing epicenter of the virus with more than 21,000 known cases and 281 deaths as of Thursday…
“The need grows exponentially every single day,” she said. In the worst day that Elmhurst has seen so far, the virus claimed 13 lives in one day, which Lane said was “unprecedented.”
“All of this is unheard of,” she said.
What was unheard of in our nation’s hospitals, that is what the bishops heard coming. They are not insane, rather, they are marshaling their forces for the final battle. I don’t mean the apocalypse, for this is not the end-times. I mean, they are marshaling their forces for the dying, for those who are on the door of death, for those mere steps away.
The bishops saw Death riding in from afar. These are men anointed by God, men accustomed to the sound of that hoofbeat, men familiar with the touch of Death’s hand. They know the journey to eternity can be made only with Sister Death as a companion, and they know many, many of the faithful are not properly prepared.
So, the bishops foresaw what was coming, and they prepared. They freed their anointed men from their normal duties. Public Masses were cancelled. Confessions, baptisms, weddings, even funerals, were curtailed. The bishops re-ordered their forces to defend the weakest members of the Church Militant. They prepared to send their troops, their priests, to accompany the weary, the frightened, the poor, the unprepared, the ones who would soon cross through the open door, the ones who would soon enter the open grave.
Yes, the bishops cancelled public Masses and public sacraments for the vast majority of us. Their preparations have, indeed, made it difficult for the rest of us to receive the sacraments. But for these who are approaching the ultimate poverty, the poverty that strips away all we have, that strips even our very bodies from our souls, for these very poorest of the poor, the dying, for these the bishops called forth their anointed, for these the bishops and their men assembled.
These men, these anointed, hear our confessions every day. They know our weaknesses better than you or I ever could. The bishops don’t want their priests to die. They don’t want their fellow bishops to die. They don’t want to die. But it doesn’t matter what they want — they have a job to do, and as they do it, they will die.
They know this, but still, they come. Stripped of all other duties, prepared like a boxer, ready for the fight, they now go forth to bless, to comfort and to shrive the dying. They will meet Death with us, and because of them, we will meet Death standing, humble in ourselves, but proud of the graces we have received from their hands, prepared for the journey, equipped with the Waybread of eternal life.
Yes, you are frightened. Yes, the bishops know your fear. But in your fear, respect those who run towards what you dread. Show them at least respect for that. Yes, the bishops have given the rest of us enormous dispensations, some bishops have even dispensed their flocks from the ancient Lenten Friday fast from meat. But remember: we have, almost all, been dispensed from our duties so the priests can attend to theirs. And if you think the bishops are going easier on their flock than they should, remember, Christ goes easier on us than we deserve.
Be grateful for these mercies.
Be thankful for these men.
Note: My thanks to Mrs Jeff Kantor, for contributing to this essay — “As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens man.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Originally published at The Fifth Column.
Painting: Last Rites, c. 1600 / Wikimedia Commons, PD-US