I received a kind message from an American friend forwarding me this text about the closure of churches during the present lockdown in France.
Dear friends, I would like to ask for your prayers for Catholics in France, who are leading a terrible battle for the reinstatement of the Holy Mass. They lost the legal challenge last week, but the silver lining is that their Bishops joined them in the challenge. Now, they are lawfully organising peaceful protests for tomorrow, in more than 100 places throughout the country- all lawfully predeclared, according to the Law, to the relevant authorities. But the French authorities have today forbidden those lawful demonstrations to take place outside churches. They can go ahead, but in other public places. In one city, the authorities have forbidden those taking part tomorrow to pray, “even in silence” (their words!). Yesterday, the French Prime Minister, Gerard Darmanin*, made threats towards Catholics, saying he would not hesitate to prosecute…The French Catholics need our prayers, they are fighting for religious freedom, not just for France, but for Europe. Thank you and God bless you.
* The French Prime Minister is Jean Castex. Gérard Darmanin is Minister of the Interior.
I live in France and we all know about the lockdown. I am rather clear about this whole thing. There is suppression of religious freedom only if this Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax and part of a conspiracy to bring mankind to some kind of Orwellian dystopia. Could this be an elaborate hoax even with the high numbers of people in hospital suffering from Covid-19 and not primarily from other diseases? How could this diabolical plot be known only to conspiracy theorists and no one else? Only in these conditions would closing churches be constitutive of a persecution rather than a hygiene measure as during the Spanish Flu of 1918-20.
Lockdown affects us all. It is designed to limit our social life which is the primary cause of infection. This second lockdown has been designed to allow work and the economy as much as possible. Many shops have to close to keep people out of the streets as much as possible. Closing churches is only a part of this strategy. The problem is the lockdown. Is there any other way to fight the pandemic other than “letting rip” and hoping that not too many people will die or getting the population vaccinated? Either there isn’t or we go the way of the conspiracy theorists – and regret it when we catch the virus.
I think this pandemic can teach Christians – Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed – that religion isn’t first and foremost political action and socializing. We can learn about solitary contemplative life, praying the Office and devotions, reading the Scriptures and the Fathers, learning some theology – many things that can be done from home. Priests can “stream” Mass or make video recordings, which can help to an extent. The flood will subside and the sun will shine again, and the churches can be made ready for a new revival like in the Romantic era of the Oxford Movement and the holy Curé d’Ars. I think the French Revolution was worse than our pandemic, and we should get some perspective…
Here is my Mass of this Sunday with the readings and my address in French.
What if we vary Maria’s sentence in the hoax letter to Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (II.v, III.iv): ‘Some are born ascetic, some achieve ascesis, some have ascesis thrust upon them’? The rise of eremiticism and monasticism are often seen as a preserving and purifying sequel to the persecutions of the first three centuries – with the notable difference that the eremites, monks, and nuns chose to answer a call to ascesis, with a further development in practice of careful spiritual direction as to when one might proceed from monastic community to being a hermit(ess) (however much bullying young folk into cloistered life too soon followed success in various cases). Lockdowns seem, in effect (whatever the intentions) like a return to persecutions – having the opportunity for ascesis thrust upon each and all. “Amen, amen dico tibi : cum esses junior, cingebas te, et ambulabas ubi volebas : cum autem senueris, extendes manus tuas, et alius te cinget, et ducet quo tu non vis.” [‘Amen, amen I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not.’ St. John 21: 18, Vulgate and Douay-Rheims.] But, not only ‘when thou shalt be old’ like a number of us: “super vos ipsas flete et super filios vestros. […] Quia si in viridi ligno haec faciunt, in arido quid fiet?” [‘weep for yourselves, and for your children. […] For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?’ St. Luke 23:28,31.] Ascesis thrust upon one can be good in the event, under the Mercy, if well received. But is not even well-intentioned thrusting it upon people a spiritually perilous undertaking?
I don’t have enough knowledge of the science to say whether lockdowns can be avoided as they were in Sweden. A big problem is that too many people won’t observe masking, handwashing and distancing which would avoid the need for lockdowns. Even during lockdown, the police in France had to deal with a party of 300 people a few days ago, and there was a person who was known to be positive. I am lucky to live in a house in the country and to continue getting translation orders to earn my living. I am high-functioning autistic so I have less need of social contact than most people. I understand that many live in cramped apartments in cities and have no relief that outside entertainment and social life would give them. I would not tell them to “eat cake”!
I am tempted to agree with the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration on the precise subject of lockdowns. They certainly cause more damage to people’s psychological and physical health than the coronavirus. The reason for their being imposed is that other means like curfews have been tried and too many gamed the system. They were either deniers, conspiracy theorists or just didn’t care for anything other than their own pleasure. I observe the rules. I am sick and tired of filling in attestation forms (as we have to here in France) to go out for the legitimate reasons. I would have loved to get a little more sailing while the weather was nice in early November. I recognise that there is a virus out there that is as infectious as the common cold, but which often causes pneumonia, blood disorders and organ damage. I would not like to catch it! The cause of the virus is social contact with other people and one or more persons being positive. Masks, handwashing, distance and being outdoors reduce the risk considerably. Until we get a vaccine, it’s all we have.
My point is to make the most of spending most of the time at home. Not everyone will. I know. Many people will break down and need psychiatric care. I don’t make light of it.