Catholics face Holy Week with a CoVid-19 pandemic, closed churches, political and economic chaos, hoarding, and for some, isolation and loneliness. A plan for coping.
Father George David Byers, Missionary of Mercy, Parish Priest and Chaplain of Police, snubs his nose at my adulation for the now off-the-air PBS Masterpiece Classic series, Downton Abbey. Set in Edwardian England, it was a showcase of both drama and history. Many TSW readers became fans of the series after my 2013 post, “Downton Abbey’s Prison Drama: A TSW Masterpiece Classic.”
If you were one of its fans, then you might recall the episodes about England’s – and the Grantham Family’s – entry into World War I in 1914. The most riveting and heart wrenching of those episodes came at the end of the war in 1918 when a Spanish Flu pandemic swept across Europe. All the denizens of Downton Abbey were directly or indirectly caught up in it. More British and American soldiers in the war died from the virus than from the war itself. It caused 50 million deaths worldwide.
When and where the new viral strain began is uncertain, but because Spain experienced the first major outbreak, the disease came to be called the Spanish Flu. It was exceptionally lethal. Many of the deaths were among young adults age 20 to 40, a group usually not severely affected by influenza.
So there is every reason to take very seriously the current Coronavirus scare without losing our equilibrium over it. The pandemic – a term in medicine for an epidemic that spreads across continents – is dangerous but not as broadly lethal as Spanish Flu.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. reports that its overall recovery rate is 98 to 99-percent. CoVid-19, the disease caused by this new strain of Coronavirus, is very different from the pandemic of a century ago. At this writing, among the 2,500 children who have tested positive for it, only one has died.
The age group most at risk is citizens over age 60, a time when respiratory function is naturally in decline. It is imperative that people in this age group – and I am one of them – must retreat from the public square for a time until the crisis passes. Then again, I have been “on retreat” for over 25 years!
For some, this new isolation exacerbates another crippling disease – loneliness. Pretty much everyone knows someone who is older and alone at this time. For the last half hour of my day – at 9:30 PM which is the last time I can place a telephone call in prison – I phone a friend in her later eighties who is alone. When the crisis became scary with constant media hype and dire predictions, I came to see how important these calls are for her. “Just hearing a human voice after a long day alone is a great comfort,” she said.
The friend I call has exhibited some heroic virtue in my book. Fifteen years ago, she took in a Catholic priest with serious heart disease in his sixties who was accused from decades past. Like many priests caught up in the Dallas Charter era, he was simply discarded and rendered homeless by his bishop. Four months ago, after fifteen years of giving him a home, my elderly friend found him dead in his room from cardiac arrest. Her years of selfless care for this priest now conspire with Coronavirus and its forced isolation to heighten her loneliness.
Among the dark rivers of the human heart, this virus seems a lesser plague to her than loneliness. If you have altered your presence out in the public square these days, and find yourself with down time, then please consider reaching out to others who are older, alone, and now forced into isolation. A simple phone call and a human voice mean more than most of us may realize.
KNOWLEDGE, NOT POLITICS, IS OUR BEST WEAPON
What is this menace that brought our world to a screeching halt? I am told that the Internet is filled with news about the Cornavirus, some accurate and much not at all. So even though you have likely heard of little else, I would like to give some politicians a piece of my mind (not that I can afford it), then present some factual information to encourage you.
Just after the American President declared a state of national emergency on March 13, it was frustrating to hear a Twitter message sent out almost instantly by the presumptive Democratic nominee criticizing that “This is no time for scaremongering!” No matter what the current President did or said, there was a tweet already prepared to denounce it, and him. I suspect the left v. far left v. right political camps realize how tiresome this is fast becoming.
It is frustrating to see the fear this pandemic is causing among Americans while politicians weaponize it for political points. CoVid-19 showed up in the worst possible time – a presidential election year when we have to now detach ourselves from yesterday’s battles to face a new one in a way that requires unity. I recently told a friend that perhaps the only thing that could bring this nation together in an election year is an extraterrestrial invasion force.
I may have been wrong about that if a potentially deadly virus can’t accomplish it. While much of America still wallows at the farthest points of polarity, it was inevitable that this latest scare would be weaponized in the service of partisan politics. No one has captured this scene better that Gerard Baker, Editor at Large of The Wall Street Journal, in “A National Crisis Met By Political Finger-Pointing.” This excerpt sums it up:
- “The chorus of critics predicting doom because of President Trump’s handling of the cornavirus pandemic would be more convincing if they didn’t include many of the same people who have been telling us for the past four years that his presidency would, among other things, precipitate an immediate recession; drag us into wars on multiple fronts; turn us into a satellite colony of the Kremlin; and generally bring about the enslavement of women, the dismantling of the U.S. Constitution, and the collapse of Western Civilization.”
At this time, knowledge is a far better tool than politics. We should ignore all the conspiracy theories that this pandemic is the intentional work of evil Chinese communists, a secret bioweapon stolen from the CIA, extraterrestrials poised to harvest our planet, or any of the off-the-rails ideas that are not at all helpful. They cause only fear and survivalist hoarding. On the day before writing this, I was told by one man that he had to trade four venison steaks for four rolls of toilet paper.
The Coronavirus is not new. A 2013 novel by Dean Koontz mentions the emergence of a Coronavirus out of Wuhan, China that wreaks havoc on humanity in a sort of biological Armageddon. The conspiracy theorists where I live thought Mr. Koontz may have been onto some secret knowledge about weaponized viruses. They were deflated when I told them that a cornavirus is just a broad term for a class of viruses that have been around for some time.
There are actually seven known strains of Coronavirus including the newly emerged one that causes CoVid-19 (“19” references the year it emerged). All seven of these strains are known to infect humans with varying degrees of respiratory illness. Four of these strains cause a viral version of the common cold. The other three are more serious. They are SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; MERS: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome; and the newest, known officially as SARS-00V-2 which causes the illness now called CoVid-19.
Cornaviruses are named from the crown-like spikes that appear on their surfaces. They are known to infect bats, pigs and small mammals. They mutate easily, and can jump from animals to humans where they mutate again. This newest strain is likely to have originated in bats somewhere in central China. It is not yet known how it jumped to humans, but most of the Coronaviruses first infected a mammal, then mutated to become transmissible to humans.
In an infected person, with or without symptoms, the virus lives in the tiny fluid molecules of exhaled breath and coughs. The molecules are heavy so they do not travel far. They fall to a surface, or on you, within six feet. This is why it is strongly urged to remain six feet from others by avoiding crowds.
The virus can live for a matter of hours in the tiny droplets on surfaces. This is why you should avoid touching your face, and why you are urged to wash your hands after venturing anywhere.
In a pinch, you can use hand sanitizer. If it is hard to find, effective hand sanitizer is easy to make. Two parts Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and one part clear 100-percent aloe gel mixed together will provide a nice supply.
I spent a week reading everything I could find from the CDC, The Wall Street Journal, and other credible sources, and found a few things that are easy to do to make you feel safer. Strangely one of them is to eat yogurt. By boosting probiotics in your system, you add “good bacteria” that help to attack invading germs and viruses. Avoid ultra-low carbohydrate “keto” diets right now (Listen up, Father George!) because your immune system needs to burn fuel.
CoVid-19 is thus far less deadly than SARS or MERS, but it is more easily transmitted between persons. On the day I write this, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered beaches closed and dispersed the thousands of college students who ignored the crisis to gather for Spring Break. They engaged in reckless endangerment and gross social irresponsibility. Governor DeSantis stopped it when their fathers would not. For shame!
The bottom line is that you are at risk, but not in imminent danger if you are healthy and take precautions. If you are my age or older, however, stay home as much as you can bear.
HOLY WEEK IN ISOLATION
In the month before Holy Week 2020, as President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency, Schools and churches closed across the nation, but not all. It differs from state to state. At this writing, about half of America’s school children are studying only at home. Many bishops have dispensed with the canonical obligation for Mass. Many churches continue to be open, but some are nearly empty.
Flights to and from Europe are grounded. The Governor of New Hampshire ordered the immediate closure of all restaurants, bars, and other places where people socialize. For the first
time in its 258 year-old history, the New York City St. Patrick Day Parade was cancelled this year. The Eternal City is in a state of lockdown, but the Vatican remains open with all its offices functioning. At this writing, Pope Francis has a cold and is appearing only by video. For the first time in living memory, closures and severe limits face Catholics throughout the Western world at Holy Week and Easter.
For those who must spend the Holy Week Triduum alone or without access to a community of faith, EWTN is a great gift at this time. EWTN broadcasts daily Mass at 8:00 AM (EDT) and twice more during each weekday and Sunday. For a long time in my own “retreat” this was the only Mass available to me. I came to deeply appreciate the Franciscan community of the Eternal Word and its deep reverence for the Sacred Liturgy.
For my part, I do not have the personal hubris to believe that I can add much to ease your concerns or assist in your needs – except perhaps one thing. Over ten years of writing at These Stone Walls, I have made an annual point of writing a special Holy Week post. If, like me, you find yourself “stuck inside,” then I invite you to walk the Way of the Cross with me behind These Stone Walls through the Holy Week posts linked below.
CoVid-19 has no quick and easy solution going forward. But there is a lot of hope here in these pages from another dark place with over 500 posts in our archives. I will offer Mass for our readers, Ad Orientem, this week from my cell. May the Lord bless you, and keep you safe.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Observe Holy Week with us by walking the Via Crucis with these special Holy Week posts:
- Waking Up in the Garden of Gethsemane
- Judas Iscariot: Who Prays for the Soul of the Betrayer?
- The Chief Priests Answered, ‘We Have No King but Caesar’
- Behold the Man, as Pilate Washes His Hands
- Simon of Cyrene, Compelled to Carry the Cross
- Dismas, Crucified to the Right: Paradise Lost and Found
- Found Mary Magdalene: Faith, Courage, and an Empty Tomb
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Editor’s Note – Next week on These Stone Walls: our annual Holy Week post written in the total isolation of a Coronavirus driven prison lockdown.