In Time of Epidemic

The announcement is made and France goes into Stage 3 of the anti-epidemic plan as of this night. Only food shops, pharmacies, banks, tobacconists and petrol stations can stay open. All other public places are shut. We are asked to stay at home except for reasons of work (I work from home). My wife will go to Rouen on Monday by car (taken there by one of the lawyers of the practice and brought back by me in the evening) to do some things that have to be done in the office, and will make pdf files from the various documents of the cases she has to deal with to work on at home for the rest of the week. She will not travel by train or bus. For some two weeks (or more), we will be holed up at home.

We got the essential shopping done about two weeks ago, supermarket and chemist’s shop, including pasta and toilet paper when no one else even thought of it. For the toilet, we can economise on paper by using one small piece and then use the shower as a bidet, washing with soap and hot water. For some time, we have avoided the bise (kiss on each cheek) and shaking hands. Hand washing is essential each time we go out, go into a public place, touch anything like a stainless steel surface. We have little bottles of hand sanitiser gel in our pockets and avoid touching the car before doing the hand wash. Sophie and I started getting concerned long before people stopped laughing it off as a gripette (little flu) invented by someone perverse for the purpose of some wicked conspiracy.

Our civil authorities have taken time to come to such serious decisions. President Macron here in France spent all last Thursday with doctors and scientists to make the best decision. He spoke as a true statesman and exhorted us to a sense of altruism and responsibility. I don’t know how long this is going to last. The worst and most worrying time will be the next two weeks.

I am used to staying home most of the time. We are groaning out of a long, mild and wet winter and I haven’t sailed since last August. So far, my translating work seems to be holding, as my agents are working from home and it all works via e-mail and internet. I have plenty of reading to do, and I have lots of practical things to do as the weather begins to improve next week (hopefully). The only danger to life is other people, something that goes against our every human social instinct.

There is no vaccine for this disease and none of us has any natural immunity. If I catch it, I may be lucky and be within the 80% who recover, otherwise my way out of this world might be little different from that of Novalis who died of consumption in 1801. I can only trust in God and his mercy in this Lent of 2020. My wife Sophie has weak lungs, having had a mild bout of pneumonia a few years ago and is mildly asthmatic. We are both ex-smokers, but it is said that lungs repair themselves very quickly once a person stops smoking, which I did in 2006. We all have to pray for each other and behave in such a way as to protect both ourselves and others from ourselves.

These measures are for our good. I am very thankful to be in France where our freedom and human sense of duty are respected. We have an excellent medical system, but one that cannot bear being overloaded. France should be an example for America and the UK. I fear that in England, little will be done to enable people to work from home, pay the bills and mortgage and get the medical help they need. Perhaps the cold realism of science will prevail.

Please follow the usual advice of social distancing, keeping distances from other people, getting used to refraining from gestures of courtesy, and above all washing your hands with 70° alcohol, soap and water. There are no miracle cures. Do not believe anyone on Facebook or anywhere else who pretends to have a miracle cure!

After all these practical considerations, we can only pray to be spared from this scourge, which can kill young healthy people as well as the elderly with health problems. Some will say it is a punishment from a vengeful God. That is not something I believe. Evil and adversity are a mystery that few can even begin to penetrate. Some evil is wreaked by human freedom and other calamities come from nature and are suffered by mankind. The idea sometimes put out about Covid-19 is that it was manufactured in a laboratory in Wahun, China, and somehow “escaped”. I am sceptical and have no way of knowing one way or the other. Even the most perverse countries have refrained from biological warfare because it can come back against them instead of destroying their enemy. It is not productive to think along these lines. The virus exists, and we might catch it!

We pray for God’s help and healing of our stricken humanity. I end this posting with the Sarum proper of St Sebastian in Time of Plague

Missa de sancto Sebastiano, tempore pestis

Egregie martyr Sebastiane, princeps et propagator sanctissimorum præceptorum, ecce nomen tuum in libro vitæ cœlestis ascriptum est: et memoriale tuum non derelinquetur in sæcula. Ps. Benedicam Dominúm in omni tempore. Gloria Patri. Egregie martyr.

Omnipotens sempitérne Deus, qui meritis beati Sebastiani martyris tui gloriosissimi, quandam generalem pestem epidemiæ hominibus pestiferam revocásti; præsta supplicibus tuis, ut qui pro simili peste revocanda ad ipsum sub tui confidentia confugerint, ipsius meritis et precibus ab ipsa peste epidemiæ et ab omni tribulatione liberentur. Per Dominum.

Lectio libri Sapientiæ.Ecclus 14:20, 15:3–6
Beatus vir qui in sapientia morabitur, et qui in justitia meditabitur, et in sensu cogitabit circumspectionem Dei. Cibabit illum pane vitæ et intellectus; et aqua sapientiæ salutaris potabit illum. Et firmabitur in illo, et non flectetur: et continebit illum et non confundetur; et exaltabit illum apud proximos suos. Et nomine æterno hereditabit illum Dominus Deus noster.

O sancte Sebastiane, Christi athleta gloriosissime, qui pro Christo reliquisti terrene militiæ principatum et, suscepisti magnum supplicium intercede pro nobis ad Dominum.
℣. O sancte Sebastiane, Christi martyr egregie, cujus meritis tota Lombardia fuit liberata a pestis mortifera, libera nos ab ipsa et a maligno hoste.
Alleluya, ℣. O sancte Sebastiane, nos trementes ac flentes imploramus tuum clemens auxilium ut possimus obtinere per te pestis mortiferæ apud Christum remedium.

In tempore Paschali, Alleluya. ℣. O quam gloriosum est templum tuum, beate Sebastiane, in quo divina est promissio et peccatorum remissio, splendor et lux perpetua et sine fine lætitia.

Omnes una decantemus,
et martyris personemus
laudem Sebastiani;
hic a Deo est electus,
per quem morbus est ejectus
languoris pestiferi.
Nam se Christo totum vovit,
qui vult nos hunc venerari;
Christus eum nunc promovit
in patria cœlesti.
Cunctis hic subvenit mœstis,
statim est sedata pestis,
sui causa meriti;
ipsum si nunc deprecemur,
nomen quoque veneremur
martyris sanctissimi,
Morbus iste non nocebit,
sed mortiferum delebit
populum qui tenuit;
nos pro nostris tantis malis
jam absorbet pestis talis,
quam tota gens gemuit,
Sancte martyr Sebastiane,
salva nos a peste epidemiæ;
nostra gravia ob peccata,
terra ista desolata
non sit, pie quæsumus;
sed nos considera,
et in nobis cessa,
pestem jam te petimus.
Ista per te gens sit tuta,
et ne noceat acuta
febris hæc in Anglia;
ex quo nostra spes est tota,
in te martyr, nunc remota
sit pestis mortifera,
O sancte Sebastiane,
nostræ gentis Anglicanæ
conservator et tutor sis;
et Dominum deprecare,
ut a nobis revocari
valeat vesana pestis.
Ex tua sancta prece
ne sit morbus nobis nece,
sed recedat ab hac domo;
amen, dicat omnis homo.

Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Johannem.12:24–26
In illo tempore: Dixit Jesus discipulis suis; Amen, amen, dico vobis, nisi granum frumenti cadens in terram mortuum fuerit, ipsum solum manet. Si autem mortuum fuerit, multum fructum affert. Qui amat animam suam, perdet eam: et qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam æternam custodit eam. Si quis mihi ministrat, me sequatur: et ubi sum ego, illic et minister meus erit. Si quis mihi ministraverit, honorificabit eum Pater meus, qui est in cœlis.

Martyr egregie, decus militiæ, athleta fidei, ora Natum Dei, ut avertat a nobis indignationem suam; martyr suffragia effunde pia, ut epidemia nec sit noxia in hac patria nec in alia, per subsidia posce tua; nos tibi talia damus praeconia, hic prece præmia da nobis pia, miles eia, alleluya.

Subveniat nobis, Domine, tua misericordiam intercedente beato Sebastiano martyre tuo; ut ab imminentibus peccatorum nostrorum periculis, te mereamur protegente salvari, et suis precibus a peste epidemiæ, et ab omni tribulatione liberari. Per.

Beatus es, et bene tibi erit, egregie martyr Sebastiane: quia cum sanctis gaudebis et cum angelis exsultabis in æternum.

Da, quæsumus, Domine, populo tuo salutem mentis et corporis; ut, interventu beati Sebastiani martyris tui, bonis operibus inhærendo tuo semper munere et suorum meritorum interventione, a peste epidemiæ et ab omni tribulatione mereamur, tua protectione defendi. Per Dominum.

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