War On Every Front
In 1918-1920 a major influenza pandemic swept the globe. It was a new plague. It killed millions and orphaned thousands. At the same time, World War I was was still being fought. I heard a elderly relative when I was a child say of that time: "It was war on every front": the home front fighting an illness that weakened and killed millions and the war front in Europe. If the youth was not battling in the Argonne Forest, they were fighting the outbreak in hospitals and homes at home. If they were not fighting, they were dying.
It was so bad and the fear of the outbreak was so strong (and with good reason) that people feared people. Suspicions were rampant. No one knew what caused it or for sure how it spread or why some people were immune and others weren't. The close quarters of soldiers during the War hastened the spread of the virus. The randomness was frightening. Entire families were nearly wiped out while one person was spared. People were afraid to go out in public or when they did they wore masks and gloves. In some cases, you were denied entry if you were NOT wearing a mask. Public gatherings, like sporting events, fairs and concerts were suspended. Public funerals were forbidden. Occasionally, the dead were bulldozed into mass graves.
In some communities, Masses were cancelled or held outdoors. Confessions were suspended. When Masses were held, Communion was either not distributed or more people did not present themselves to receive-not because of their state of sin but because of their fear of contracting the virus. It was not just the Catholic church, all churches, in some communities, were closed.
There was no cure for it.
Can you imagine this happening today?
Maybe it already is.
Over the last few days, word has reached these shores that Mexico City is going house to house to find ill people and put them into hospitals for treatment (whether they agree or not), public gatherings are suspended, people are going about with face masks and rubber gloves on, Masses have been suspended in Mexico City (Officially, the Sign of Peace is discouraged as is receiving Communion on the tongue). Japan is said to be worried. Outbreaks have been confirmed in a school in New York State and in California
A virus that is a combination of swine, bird and human flus is the cause of the illnesses.
The bird flu is something we've heard of in recent years. I'm old enough to remember the swine flu scare of the 1970s-it turned out to be not as bad as panic suggested. Let's pray this latest virus is nothing.
But, the fear and panic has got me thinking: How long will it be, if this gets worse, that immigrants (both legal and illegal) from countries that have the new virus are regarded with suspician and treated wrongly? I like to believe people are decent at heart but when they are afraid for their lives they don't always think of others with charity. How long could it be before travel to certain countries is prohibited or people found to be entering from these countries are quarantined until we can be sure they are not carriers?
Maybe it's nothing.
I started to think, what would it be like if the Mass was cancelled? If I couldn't go to Adoration or Benediction or Vespers because they were cancelled how upset would I be? What would I do, if I couldn't get to Confession because no priests were offering the Sacrament due to public health concerns? What if the Church doors were always locked to discourage assembly? Maybe we could go to Mass but we'd all have face masks and gloves on? What if receiving Communion was prohibited due to public health concerns?
Even if all churches and places of worship were closed, I'm conscious of the fact that, as a Catholic, receipt of the Sacraments and participation in Devotions often include going to a Church building. I will feel cut off from the Sacraments, as well as the Community of the Body of Christ, if I'm sitting alone in my house.
It occurs to me how different it is to be a Catholic from when I was an Evangelical. As an Evangelical we often attended "house churches". Also, there was no requirement to attend services. It was heavily encouraged, but not enforced or pointed to as a requirement from a set of rules. As an Evangelical, you were still "saved" when you read your Bible alone in your house as much as you were when you joined the community for worship and praise. I'm not belittling the concern the Evangelicals, or other faiths may feel if their houses or worship are closed to them, just that my experience from another Christian denomination is that the stakes don't feel as high if you can't get to the public worhship space as they do to me now as a Catholic.
Even under ideal circumstances, the receipt of Communion is not a "right", it's not "guaranteed". Many Catholics fail to realize this and think they are entitled to receive Communion at every Mass-sadly, sometimes, when they are in a state of mortal sin they still think they are entitled to receive. If there is a bright side to a possible epidemic, maybe it will be the teaching moments provided and the realization that to receive Communion, when you are able to, is a beautiful gift. It's precious and rare.
Still, I feel like if an epidemic happens and my musings come to pass, how will I live? I will feel dead and in a state of panic if the Sacraments are denied to me, to us, because any contact is a public health threat. In many ways, I wonder if this is what the Catholics who live in China or other nations that have suppressed Catholicism feel like; never knowing when they may be able to receive the Sacraments from moment to moment. Those rare times are a great gift.
Be ready. Be always ready. If you have not been to Confession in a while, it may be a great time to think about going.
We could be at war on every front. We are already at war against secularism, liberalism, socialism, communism and other 'isms that would negate or minimize our Faith; maybe we could also be at war soon against a supervirus that would attack our Faithful.
Maybe it's nothing. But, my motto at all times is: "Be ready. For you do not know the hour."