Learning from the children of Fatima
Last week a couple of acquaintances, a brother and sister, were found to be Covid-19 positive, although fortunately asymptomatic thus far.
Faced with the sudden possibility of death, people often have a change of outlook, re-evaluate their lives in the light of a realisation of their mortality. My thoughts went to the children of Fatima and particularly Jacinta and Francisco who died very young during the last global pandemic of Spanish flu a century ago. As I recall the story, Our Lady had told them that she would be taking them soon and they asked if they would be going to heaven. The answer was “Yes” but in Francisco’s case he would have to “pray many rosaries”.
What is interesting is his wholehearted response. He stopped schooling and rid himself of all trivial pursuits – even the play which comes naturally to childen – and devoted himself to prayer and making sacrifices. It is hard to imagine someone that young having much to atone for – how much more for those of us whose lives have been many times as long as his already! The need for atonement and sanctification must be very great indeed.
Another thing that makes Francisco’s witness very compelling is that the children had all seen Heaven, Hell and Purgatory in a vision and I imagine this too must have prompted such a resolute response.
If we can draw a lesson from the pandemic I think it’s to “be prepared,” take a moment to reassess the important things in life, and focus on making atonement for our sins and through prayer to seek the sanctification we need.
Manila, the Philippines
As Mgr Langham explains in his typically calm and judicious article (catholicherald.co.uk), the bishops have carefully balanced various considerations during lockdown. May I advance two constructive criticisms of their response to it?
First: The bishops missed an opportunity to promote the use of the Divine Office by laypeople. The Divine Office in all its forms is an excellent means by which individuals and families can participate in the liturgy of the Church from their own homes, uniting themselves to her liturgical year. It provides a natural focus for a thriving household spirituality, it is available online, and use of it might easily have been popularised during lockdown.
The daily text of the near-contemporary and streamlined Liturgy of the Hours (the ordinary form of the Roman-rite office) is offered at www.universalis.com, and the Latin text of the rich and venerable Roman Breviary of 1962 (the extraordinary form) is offered, with a facing English translation, at www.divinumofficium.com. There is even an (unofficial) American version of the BCP-based Ordinariate office available at prayer.covert.org. It should not be assumed that the Divine Office is the exclusive property of the clergy.
Second, and more importantly: given that the faithful have a canonical right to reasonable access to the Sacraments (Canon 843), I wonder whether enough was done to facilitate the Sacrament of Matrimony during full lockdown, especially for those who had already undertaken marriage preparation, and were planning early summer weddings. Did our bishops and parishes inform couples of the possibility of a marriage being witnessed by laypeople, as per canon 1116 § 1.2? I certainly know that other countries’ bishops did not, leaving couples to inquire about this option themselves. This is sad, because the Church should always protect and facilitate marriage in practice as well as in theory; she should not leave well-prepared engaged couples stuck in a spiritual stasis, waiting for civil restrictions to end.
I realise, of course, that weddings were civilly banned between March 23 and July 3, and that the Church should seek to follow the civil laws where possible, including reasonable civil laws on marriage. But she also has a duty to resist civil governments’ tendency to arrogate to themselves powers beyond their stations, especially powers over marriage – just as she resisted Lothair II of Lotharingia, Philip I of France, Philip II of France, Alfonsus of Leon, Henry VIII and Napoleon I, as Leo XIII reminds in his Arcanum of 1880. And a three-month near-total ban on weddings was too Henrician for my taste.
Perhaps both these points could be borne in mind during any future lockdowns, both here and in the wider Church.
For many people, the lockdown became an excellent opportunity for revision of important religious knowledge. Few of us can quote or even paraphrase important Bible texts accurately, and this weakens the Christian cause.
Many of us do not remember important parts of Church teaching, and this too is detrimental to the Church and our religious practice. Hearing gossip and rash judgments in the Church reminds us of the effort needed to internalise Gospel values; these are not acquired without effort.
One priest told me that priests ought to revise important instruction annually to maintain best practice, but this does not always happen. There are people who cite “the spirit of Vatican II” but evidently have not read its documents.
We all have much work to do, and I hope that the lockdown has started a good habit for many of us.
In the Spanish family magazine Sagrada Familia, the educational specialist Sister Dolors Gaja makes a point that other commentators may have missed about the impact, during lockdown, of the virtual exclusion of children from funerals.
An important part of a child’s growth to human and Christian maturity is the experience of death within the family: a granny, or a favourite uncle, say. I was recently able to attend the burial of a good friend, where the social distancing of those present fitted sthe solemnity of the occasion, but there were no children present.
Steve De la Bedoyere
A saint to inspire
The global coronavirus recession could well last a long time; hard times could lie ahead for many. But perhaps people could draw some strength from reflecting upon the life of the Earl of Arundel, St Philip Howard.
It was during the initial weeks of lockdown that I began to think of this outstanding saint. He was born into high society in 1557. Philip studied at Cambridge and from there he attended Queen Elizabeth’s Court. He was ambitious, exceptionally rich and enjoyed life. But everything was to change for Philip when he attended a debate between the Jesuit, (Saint) Edmund Campion and some Protestant ministers: he was easily drawn to the side of the true religion. Philip subsequently attended Campion’s trial at Westminster Hall (1581) and was profoundly moved by his eloquent defence of the Catholic religion.
In 1584 Philip was reconciled with the Catholic Church, which cost him his life. Charges were falsely brought against him; he was fined £10,000 and committed to the Tower of London (Beauchamp Tower) at the Queen’s pleasure.
Because Philip had led a life of luxury and had spent the past 11 years at Court, Elizabeth felt he would crack, but she misjudged him – he was to spend the next 11 years in prison until he succumbed to dysentery on October 19 1595.
No Mass, no Sacraments but an unbroken spirit. His greatest pain was the separation from his wife, Anne. He was imprisoned before she gave birth to their second child, a son, but the news was kept from him.
He was given a final choice: his request would be granted, and all his estates restored with honours, if he would but once attend a Protestant Service; but he could not accept this offer.
Just consider for one minute his position, wealth, influence; and then how he was subjected to prison conditions: harsh winter months, no sight of the sun for the greatest part of the year, a slender diet, vermin, boredom, isolation, the stench of poor sanitation, and eventually disease and death. What a man, hero and saint of our land.
Here in Ireland, it is now a “radical” stance to hold that the killing of an unborn baby is wrong. Recent statistics show that in 2019, 6666 abortions were carried out. The usual faux-humanitarians responded by calling for even more abortion provision. Their cowardly and sinister argument to justify abortion under the guise of “healthcare” and “choice” continues. Their phobia of, and deflection from, uttering the word “baby” is disturbing and telling.
The dehumanisation and demonisation of the baby are at the forefront in their collective thinking. They can use as many jingle-jangles as they wish to normalise abortion, it does not change a thing about the stark tragic reality of it.
One in three of us voted to protect the precious, vulnerable unborn baby and we will continue to fight this. More so than ever, we need to protect our children from the totalitarian ideologues that lurk in our society.
Never be lectured by people and organisations that think killing an unborn baby is healthcare and a human right. We have the truth and light in our hearts and soul, and this keeps us free from the dark demons that hover around us. The brighter the light for some, the darker the shadow for others.
Collinstown, Co Westmeath
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