Recently, Pope Francis said that COVID-19 (The Wuhan Virus or #WuhanVirus) is not a punishment from God, but rather a punishment from Mother Nature (see here). I wholeheartedly disagree with that assertion. Our God is the God of nature, and nature is not really our “mother.” If it is, then she’s a bitch, plain and simple. Sorry, I work in healthcare. I see so-called “Mother Nature” at her worst all the time. No, nature is not our “mother.” That’s a Pagan concept, and it would seem that Pope Francis may have been a little too influenced by the Pachamama cult at the Amazon Synod. He went on to suggest that God is the forgiving one, who always forgives, but nature does not.
Nope. Sorry. That’s not the way I see it, neither as a catechist nor as a healthcare practitioner. It seems to me that nature doesn’t really give a flying hoot what we do most of the time. People get away with all sorts of evil constantly. Nature does nothing to them. They live long and healthy lives, in luxury, with virtually no suffering at all. Meanwhile the humble and poor person, who always follows the rules, catches some horrible disease through no fault of his/her own, suffers for weeks and dies a slow and agonizing death. Like I said, if nature is our mother, then she’s a bitch.
I prefer to think of nature as mere biological forces, subject to the laws of physics and chemistry, each facet of nature struggling to survive in competition with each other, with no mystical force guiding them at all, except the Almighty hand of Yahweh (God) as he sees fit. Sometimes he allows some of these biological forces to prevail over others, as he sees fit. Sometimes he just lets them run their course, as he sees fit. If we exclude the afterlife, none of it makes much sense at all. However, when we include the afterlife into our thought processes, it starts to become a little more clear. Nature serves a purpose. It’s a tool. It’s God’s tool. God is the Craftsman, nature is his toolbox. God uses it to create life, he uses it to allow suffering, and he uses it to end life as well, always with the afterlife in mind. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Nature is not our “mother,” because nature is not a stand-alone entity or force. Rather, nature is God’s toolbox and nothing more. I find it’s best to look at things this way, lest I become resentful of our so-called “mother.”
What the Holy Father, our pope, was unwilling to say, I will say boldly. The Wuhan Virus is a chastisement from God, not only upon the world, but upon the Church especially. When the first man and woman chose to rebel against God in the primordial garden, what they essentially chose to do was allow themselves to become subject to the forces of nature in the same way the plants and animals are. ‘Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die”‘ (Genesis 2:16-17). I don’t know if that tree was literal or only representative of something else. What I do know is the man and the woman both disobeyed God, they sinned, and in doing so they made themselves (and all of us) subject to the forces of nature: starvation, thirst, injury, disease and ultimately death. Mankind chose to become subject to the tools of God’s creative processes, and one of those tools is sickness. Throughout the Old Testament, time and time again, we see God using his tools of nature to exact his chastisement upon various peoples and nations. Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed by some kind of catastrophic natural disaster. The plagues of Egypt can all be explained through processes of nature, until we get to the last ones. Again, many of the miracles of the Exodus, which God used to save the Israelites, have natural explanations. That doesn’t make them any less miraculous. It just means that Yahweh is the God of nature. When Jesus commanded the storm and seas (Mark 4:35-41), he demonstrated who he is, that he is Yahweh, the God of nature. So when a virus begins to ravage humanity, we must defer to God’s sovereignty over nature. There is ample evidence to believe the virus itself is man-made, a freak of nature, a chimera created in a bio-weapons lab for the purpose of death and destruction (read more here). Maybe it is. But now that it’s released into nature, God alone is in control of it. Viruses mutate constantly. The overwhelming vast majority of the time, they mutate in the direction of less harmful. This is what has happened to other bio-weapons that “got away” from the laboratory. They killed a few hundred or thousand people, then just puttered out, mutating into something less harmful. That doesn’t seem to be happening with the Wuhan Virus yet. It can happen though, and we should pray it does, with repentance and mourning for our sins. God has control of nature. It is his toolbox. He can control this virus too, with ease. Yet, for some reason, he’s chosen not to. That should be concerning for us.
Let’s consider, for a moment, the effects of the Wuhan Virus on Western Society. First, it strikes both the good and the evil without discrimination. Second, it has a very long incubation period, wherein the host is still contagious. This allows it to spread stealthily without detection. Third, the only way to fight the virus right now is by completely shutting down the economy, which is the biggest pride and joy of Western people. Fourth, the strategy of “sheltering in place” forces Westerners to spend time with their families, when they’re usually distracted by other things. Fifth, the collapsing economy is causing unemployment and loss of income, doing two things: bankrupting governments and forcing citizens to rely more on God.
Most significantly, however, how is the Wuhan Virus affecting the Church?
The primary effect of the Wuhan Virus is separation. By that I mean separation of the Faithful from their pastors, and the sacraments. In my opinion, this is highly symbolic and clearly a chastisement from God. Here are the implications…
By separating the Faithful from their pastors and the sacraments, it has the same effect as God’s glory leaving the Temple of Israel when he was displeased with the Israelites (Ezekiel 10:18-19). Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant, and even though Mass is still being celebrated behind closed doors, it has become increasingly difficult (in some cases near impossible) for the Faithful to have access to it. The Faithful are being deprived of the real presence of Jesus Christ. They are also, in many cases, being deprived of the sacrament of confession, during Lent no less, when it’s most important to be examining one’s conscience and confessing all known sin. The Faithful are deprived of these things, on an unprecedented scale. How can this not be a sign of God’s chastisement!?
Then, there is the other side of the coin. The clergy are being denied the presence of the Faithful. Their churches are completely empty. Every day they say mass before — no one! They are alone in the sanctuary, with only the presence of the Lord to comfort them in their isolation. The Faithful have been completely taken away from them. They are acting as priests, but for whom?
A priest recently told me that all of this is due to offending our Eucharistic Lord with irreverent worship. I can see that. It’s a valid observation. I think he’s right. I also think this has something to do with the clergy’s tendency to favor the social gospel over the traditional gospel of our Lord. By focusing on the social gospel, the clergy have abused the Faithful, and led them astray from the traditional gospel of our Lord. The result has been the removal of the Faithful from their presence. They can no longer teach them this social gospel poison. So now they have nothing. If they preach at all, it is to an empty room.
Worse yet, the “shelter in place” strategy to fight the Wuhan Virus may very well be a precursor and a sign of things to come. God may very well be telling the clergy that if they continue on their current path, they will eventually have no flock to pastor. While, simultaneously, God may be telling the Faithful that if they continue on their current path, they may no longer have the sacraments available to them at all. Consider the Wuhan Virus a warning. It is, perhaps, God’s shot across our ecclesiastical bow. He could very well be saying to us: “You think this is bad? There’s a lot more where that came from.” It is, in my opinion, a minor chastisement from God, and a fair warning. The Wuhan Virus is temporary. We will eventually emerge from this, albeit a bit smaller in population, but we will emerge. God is certainly capable of bringing something that would make this situation permanent for the Church. It doesn’t have to be a virus. He could easily use other methods. He is God, after all. He can do whatever he wants.
However, this isn’t just a warning. I’m convinced it’s a judgement too. There will be some permanent results of the Wuhan Virus upon the Church. For starters, many older priests and bishops will die from this. Statistically, they cannot escape it. The leadership of the Catholic Church is predominately made up of old men, many of whom have various health problems. A large number of them will die from the Wuhan Virus, certainly not all of them, but a large number. This is both a warning and a chastisement. These men will have served their last liturgies before empty churches, alone, with nobody to comfort them but our Lord. Let us hope that those who need repentance will have done so before the Wuhan Virus punches their ticket to the particular judgement.
It gets worse. Due to the “shelter in place” orders from civil governments, and the cancelling of all public masses (making them private instead), the faithful are effectively getting a “vacation” from their Sunday obligations, including Easter! This is, not to mention, their “vacation” from confession too. Now, some bishops have bound their flocks to some form of pious devotion in their homes on Sundays. This includes the Holy Rosary in many cases. That’s good. However, we can count on only a small few actually doing this. The effective “vacation” from Catholicism, without the availability of Eucharist or confession, will have an effect on the laity. For those of good will, who wish to seek God with a sincere heart, we can expect them to develop a hunger and be drawn closer to our Lord. Unfortunately, this will only be a few. For the rest, the “vacation” will only be an affirmation of the Protestant ecclesiology they’ve already embraced for years. They don’t need to go to mass anymore, so why go at all? They will embrace the Protestant notion that one could just as easily have “church” in one’s home, or worship God outdoors in nature, while walking through a park, without organized religion. The Protestant idea of “why confess your sins to a priest when you can confess them directly to God” is now taking hold, even as I’m writing this. Catholics are drifting away from the faith, not just because of the Wuhan Virus, but because they were so poorly catechized to begin with, that the Wuhan Virus just makes it all that much easier. Having missed Lent, and the Easter Triduum, I predict that a large number of weak Catholics will have fallen away before Pentecost of 2020, perhaps more at one time than ever before. The only consolation for this will be that a few seekers will return to the Catholic Church, but they will by no means compare to those who leave.
You’ve got to look at this from the perspective of a weak Catholic who has been poorly catechized in the Faith. Right now, as I write this, he’s thinking: “Wait a minute. All these years I’ve been told I need to go to Mass and confess my sins to a priest in order to get to Heaven. Now, all of a sudden, because of some disease, I’m being told I don’t need to go to Mass and confess my sins to a priest in order to get to Heaven. So which is it?” You can bet the words of their Protestant friends are echoing through their minds right now…
“Confess your sins directly to God, not to a priest. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. The Church can’t save you, only Jesus can. Come to our church. There is no Sunday obligation. You can go any day of the week if you like. If you miss a few services, it’s no big deal. No need for confession. Come one, come all, and come as you are. If you want to do Church at home, we can help you do that too!”
— Typical Evangelical Ecclesiology
Don’t tell me Catholics staying at home aren’t hearing that message right now. Don’t tell me that won’t be attractive to a weak and poorly catechized Catholic. There may be a little surge in attendance just as soon as the isolation protocols are lifted, but don’t expect it to last. The failure of the Church to properly catechize the laity is, RIGHT NOW, leading to them leaving the Church in the absence of habitual Mass attendance. Many dioceses are hemorrhaging members right now, without even realizing it.
So is the Wuhan Virus a chastisement from God? You bet it is! If this isn’t a minor, little, divine spanking, then I can’t imagine what would be. God is clearly sending us a message. I suggest we pay attention. What do I think he wants? I think it’s the same thing he’s always asking from us. Repent of our sins. Believe the gospel. Shepherds, tend to your flock. Teach them properly and discipline them when needed. Reverence the Eucharist always! It’s not that hard really. Catholics have been doing all these things for centuries. It’s just in the last 50 years that things have gotten a little crazy. I’m not saying we should go back to the past. Rather, what I’m saying is we should take the best from the past, learn from it, and bring it into the future. It’s time to be fully and unapologetically Catholic again.