We are living through most troubled and troubling times. A virus has been, in some way, unleashed, traveling to all parts of the world. It has caused and is causing many to suffer from the associated illness, COVID-19, to a greater or lesser degree. Many have died and are dying, either directly from the illness or from complications of which the illness is a part. In response to the spread of the contagion, many governments have imposed severe restrictions on the movement of their citizens, confining citizens to their homes and closing down the operation of all but essential services. The effect on the economy of families, local communities and nations has been devastating.
The origin of the virus remains yet unclear. Reports about its nature and course are conflicting. At present, there is a forceful debate about whether its course will now permit us to resume our daily activities or whether, because of a threat of the resurgence of the contagion, we must continue to live confined to our homes. We receive reports from those who are retained to be experts that are clearly contradictory. There is also a legitimate fear of unscrupulous persons using the health crisis for political and economic ends.
A peculiar aspect of the resulting international health crisis, what is called a pandemic, is that the greater body of the healthy are placed under severe restrictions, even regarding their practice of the faith, on the assumption that infection with the virus often remains hidden until it suddenly manifests itself. In a certain way, each of us becomes a possible danger to others. In such a situation, natural human interaction is rendered severely limited. Among some, the situation has led to constant worry about possible infection and the nurture of an illusion that somehow we can create a perfectly sanitary environment in which we will not be threatened by any bacteria or virus or in which by prophylactic measures, including universally imposed vaccination, we will be protected, with certainty, against the coronavirus.
With regard to vaccination, it must be clear that it is never morally justified to develop a vaccine through the use of the cell lines of aborted fetuses. The thought of the introduction of such a vaccine into one’s body is rightly abhorrent. At the same time, it must be clear that vaccination itself cannot be imposed, in a totalitarian manner, on citizens. When the State takes on such a practice, it violates the integrity of its citizens. While the State can provide reasonable regulations for the safeguarding of health, it is not the ultimate provider of health. God is. Whatever the State proposes must respect God and His Law.
There can be no question that life has become, in many respects, strange. There are those who have wanted to characterize the confinement to home as almost providential, that is, the occasion to make an extended spiritual retreat or to enhance family life. Certainly, we are called to accept whatever suffering comes into our lives, making it, with the help of God’s grace, a source of blessing for ourselves and others. The fact, however, remains that the situation does not correspond to the way in which God has called us to live and that, therefore, it constitutes a suffering. We cannot ignore the widespread negative effect of the situation in depression and other mental illnesses, in the abuse of alcohol and drugs, and so forth. While we are called to offer our suffering to God in love of Him and of our neighbor, we certainly do not want to foster it, as if it were a good in itself.
It is also clear that individuals and groups with a particular agenda are using the profound suffering, in what regards both the health and the economy of families, local communities and nations, to promote their agenda, whether it be the advance of a single world government, the promotion of environmental causes, and even radical changes in the practice of the Catholic faith. In the midst of the disorientation and confusion generated by the international health crisis, we must, above all, turn to right reason and to our faith in addressing the crisis for the good of all.
From the beginning of the crisis, there has been a failure on the part of the Church as one body to announce clearly the Gospel and to insist on the exercise of her mission, in accord with the Gospel, also in times of international crisis. Individual priests and Bishops have been wise and courageous in finding the means to remain close to God’s flock in their care, especially by bringing the Sacraments to those who are ill and dying, but sadly the general impression among the faithful is that their priests have been taken away from them or have abandoned them. The greater part of the faithful have been denied the Sacraments now for weeks.
It is tragic to hear reports of faithful who ask a priest to hear their confession and receive the response that the priests are forbidden to hear confessions, or who ask for Holy Communion and are told that the priests are forbidden to distribute Holy Communion outside of the Holy Mass. It is particularly tragic to hear the accounts of the faithful dying without the help of their priest or without any member of their family or friends present to assist them, and the accounts of lifelong faithful Catholics being buried without any Funeral Rites whatsoever. In some cases, these tragic circumstances have been dictated by the State and in some cases they have been dictated by the Church, beyond the demands of the regulations of the State or in conformity with regulations of the State, which are in violation of religious freedom.
The situation has rightly sustained an intense discussion on the relationship of the Church and the State. In the absence of due respect for the Church and for the religious freedom of her members, the State assumes the authority of God Himself, dictating to the Church regarding the most sacred realities like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance. If we had any doubt regarding the loss of such respect, it was dispelled by incidents in which civil authorities attempted to prevent a priest offering the Holy Mass from completing the sacred action.
From the beginning, there has been a failure to make clear that among all of the necessities of life the principal necessity is communion with God. Yes, we need what is required for our nourishment, health and hygiene, but none of these essential needs can substitute for our most fundamental need: to know, love and serve God. As I was taught long ago, among the first lessons in the Catechism, God made man to know, love and serve Him in this life and thereby to obtain life everlasting with Him in Heaven.
In the face of an international health crisis, we must turn first to God, asking Him to keep us safe from the contagion and from every other evil. Turning to God, we find the direction and strength to take whatever human measures are required to protect ourselves, according to the demands of right reason and of the moral law. Otherwise, if we falsely think that the combat against the evil depends totally upon us, we take measures which offend our human dignity and, above all, our right relationship with God. In that regard, the State should be attentive to the religious freedom of the citizens, in order that the help of God may be sought at all times and in all things. To think otherwise is to make the State our god and to think that mere humans, without the help of God, can save us.
If there was a lack of respect for our fundamental relationship with God at the beginning of the present international health crisis, there is a similar lack of respect in what is proposed, once the crisis has passed. One hears repeatedly the mantra that our life will never again be the same and that we can never return to life as we lived it before. It has been suggested, for instance, that the ancient gesture of giving one’s hand to another in friendship and trust must now be forever abandoned. Also, there is a certain movement to insist that now everyone must be vaccinated against the coronavirus COVID-19 and even that a kind of microchip needs to be placed under the skin of every person, so that at any moment he or she can be controlled by the State regarding health and about other matters which we can only imagine. It has also been suggested, even by pastors of the Church, that the present crisis should lead us to consider again whether Sunday Mass is essential to the Christian life or whether Funeral Rites are essential to the practice of our faith.
Yes, it is true that the experience of the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis has marked significantly our lives, but it must not assume the direction of our lives. Our Lord Jesus Christ remains the King of Heaven and of Earth. We remain created in God’s image and likeness, with the gifts of faith and reason. We remain sons and daughters of God, adopted in God the Son which we can only by the all-wondrous work of His Redemptive Incarnation. We live in God, we receive God’s life into our hearts and souls from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, in order to do what is right and just and good for ourselves and for our world. We must return to a life lived in communion with God, using right reason and putting into practice the truths of our Catholic faith.
The Sunday Mass obligation, for instance, participates in natural and divine law, the Third Commandment of the Decalogue, which we are obliged to observe, unless, for reasons beyond our control, we are not able to do so. During the present crisis, it has been said that Bishops dispense the faithful from the Sunday Mass obligation, but no human has the power to dispense from divine law. If it has been impossible, during the crisis, for the faithful to assist at Holy Mass, then the obligation did not bind them, but the obligation remained.
In this regard, I have been concerned about the response of some to the long-term impossibility of access to the Sacraments, who have said that it was actually good to be without the Sacraments, in order to concentrate on the more fundamental relationship with God. Some have expressed a preference for watching the televised Holy Mass in the comfort of their homes. But the Holy Mass is not some human representation. It is Christ Himself Who descends to the altars of our churches and chapels to make sacramentally present the saving fruit of His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. What on earth could be preferable to the presence of Christ in our midst in the sacramental action!
Some pastors have even rebuked the faithful who pleaded for the Sacraments, accusing them of wanting, in selfishness, to risk serious harm to the health of others. No one denies the need to take necessary sanitary precautions, but the desire of the Sacraments, especially of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, is at the heart of our faith. Our relationship with God requires that we leave the confinement of our homes and what we may imagine to be a perfectly protected environment, in order that He, through His only-begotten Son, can speak to our hearts and nourish them with divine grace. In this regard, even as it is perfectly normal that individuals leave the confinement of their homes to purchase, for instance, food and medicine, it is even more perfectly normal that persons of faith leave the confinement of their homes to pray and to receive the Sacraments.
Here, it must be noted that Our Lord has entrusted the sacred realities of His presence with us to the care of our pastors. It is they who have received the grace to safeguard those realities and to provide access to them for the faithful. Their knowledge and experience must always be conformed to the truths of the faith, handed down to us through the unbroken line of Apostolic Tradition. In a time of health crisis, public health experts may make recommendations about how best to protect the health of those who have access to churches and chapels, but it is the Bishops and priests who must implement such recommendations in a manner that respects the divine reality of the faith itself and of the Sacraments. For instance, to suggest that a priest distribute Holy Communion while wearing a mask and plastic gloves, and sanitize his hands at various times after he has consecrated the Sacred Host may, from a medical perspective be the most sanitary practice, but it does not respect the truth that it is Christ Who is giving Himself to us in the Sacred Host. At the same time, the prohibition of receiving the Sacred Host on the tongue and the mandate to receive Holy Communion in the hand, while it may be more sanitary, although that is debated, could only be justified by a grave reason.
It is true that historically the Church has used different sacred instruments to give Holy Communion to someone who was highly contagious, but these methods of reception of Holy Communion were not used for the Holy Communion of the faithful, in general. It was not assumed that the priest and the faithful, in general, were all infected, as seems to be the assumption today, and, therefore, could not receive Holy Communion in the most devout manner possible. Medical experts and public health officials can make recommendations to the Church, but it is the Church herself who must decide regarding practices touching upon the most sacred realities of our faith.
The coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic has also raised a most serious question for us as citizens of a nation. The role of the People’s Republic of China in the whole international health crisis raises many serious questions. While we as Christians love the Chinese people and want for them what is for their good, we cannot fail to recognize that their government is the embodiment of atheistic materialism or communism. In other words, it is a government which has no respect for God and for His Law. The President of China, Xi Jinping, has made it abundantly clear that the only acceptable religion in China is China. His government is based on the idolatry of the nation, and a number of its laws and practices are in open violation of the most fundamental precepts of the divine law written upon the heart of every man and woman, and articulated in the Decalogue. It is an evil form of government which, for instance, practices forced abortions and openly violates the religious freedom of the people. It is only right to ask what ethical principles have governed the involvement of the Chinese government in the coronavirus COVID-19 international health crisis.
At the same time, it is only right to ask what has been and what is the involvement of national and international public health organizations with the Chinese government in the matter of the virus which has threatened many lives and the very stability of sovereign nations. There is also the serious question of individuals with many billions of dollars at their disposal, who regularly and powerfully sustain an anti-life and anti-family agenda and who are publicly involved in the crisis and exercise a heavy influence on public opinion regarding it. As citizens of a nation, it is our duty to ask these questions and to pursue steadfastly honest answers to them.
When I was in elementary and secondary school, the study of what was called civics was taken with great seriousness. It was the study of how the government of one’s nation works to protect the common good, including just relationships with other nations. The goal of the study was to make students, the future of the nation, responsible for the government of their nation. I am told that, for a long time already, civics has not been taught in many schools. If such be the case, how will the students be equipped to be responsible citizens? The exercise of such responsibility is irreplaceable to a stable democratic government. It is also a part of the natural law, in specific, the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue, which teaches us respect for our parents and for those institutions which safeguard and promote family life, ultimately for the nation. The present crisis should lead us to look again at education, a fundamental expression of our culture, and to provide what is lacking in the preparation of students to exercise the fundamental virtue of patriotism.
The present crisis has also made clear how dependent many nations are on the People’s Republic of China. Companies which for decades produced the necessary goods of a nation within the nation now produce those goods in China in the interest of economic gain. How many of the goods we use daily bear the label: “Made in China”? The present crisis must lead us to ask why, in our nations, we ourselves are not producing what is necessary for the healthy and strong life of the people of the nation. These are complex questions which are made all the more urgent by the fact that many nations are, in fact, dependent upon the People’s Republic of China, a government which fully and radically espouses atheistic materialism.
My somewhat long reflection should not lead to discouragement but rather to the courageous pursuit of our Catholic identity in Christ alive for us in His holy Church, an identity which by its very definition is for the common good, the good of all peoples. Christ came to save the world, and He calls us to life in the Holy Spirit, in order that we may be His co-workers in His Redemptive mission which continues until He returns at the end of time to establish “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” to inaugurate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, His Wedding Feast, at which we are called to be participants through the grace of Baptism and Confirmation.
Our Lord sent His Virgin Mother to Cova da Iria near Fatima in Portugal in 1917, for the precise mission of calling us back to life in Him, to a strong Catholic identity, in the face of the rise and spread of atheistic materialism or communism. In speaking with you today about the critical situation in which we find ourselves, I could not give you better counsel than the Virgin Mother of God gave to us, through the three shepherd children at Cova da Iria: Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and the Servant of God Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart.
The appearances of Our Lady of Fatima came at a time when the world was in a terrifying crisis, a crisis which threatened its very future, a crisis which, in many and frightening ways, continues, in our day, to threaten the future of man and of the world. It is a crisis which has also infected the life of the Church, not, of course, touching the objective reality of Christ’s life in the Church for our salvation but, rather, obscuring and manipulating the Church from within for purposes alien to her nature and thus poisonous for souls.
The immediate manifestation of the crisis was the rise of atheistic materialism or communism in Russia and its spread throughout the world. Atheistic materialism or communism is evil at its root, for it is the abandonment of faith in God and in His plan for our eternal salvation, as He, from the Creation, has written it into nature, and, above all, has inscribed it upon the human heart. It is the abandonment of the Mystery of Faith, an indifference, disregard or even hostility to the supreme reality of the Redemptive Incarnation of God the Son by which He has won for man eternal salvation, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, of divine grace, so that man can live in communion with God, in accord with His plan for His creation. Christ has won for man the gift of His own life, so that man may attain eternal life, while preparing the world for its transformation, in accord with God’s plan, for the inauguration of “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Christ is the Eternal Lamb of God, at whose Wedding Feast we are all called to have a place.
God prepared the messengers of the Virgin of Fatima by three visions of the Angel of Portugal which took place during the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 1916. During the first vision, while telling the shepherd children not to be afraid and assuring them that he was “the Angel of Peace,” he taught them to pray three times with these words:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope [in] and I love You. I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope [in] and do not love You.
God’s messenger to the shepherd children was already indicating the way in which the Mother of God would lead the world to deal with the grave crisis of atheistic materialism or communism and its inherent apostasy: the way of faith and prayer, and of penance and reparation.
Apostasy is not limited simply to the denial of the faith, but it involves every aspect of the faith. In the words of the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, “[a]postasy is a sin against the faith, since it rejects revealed doctrine; against religion, because it denies to God true worship; against justice, since it tramples underfoot the promises of the Christian.” Referring to a modern author who calls apostasy “spiritual suicide,” the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique declares:
This “spiritual suicide” is, after the hatred of God, the most grave of sins, for it, more completely and definitively than the faults simply opposed to the moral virtues, separates from God the powers of the human soul, intelligence and will.
It is clear that apostasy, either explicit or implicit, leads hearts away from the Immaculate Heart of Mary and, thus, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the only font of our salvation. In that regard, as the Message of Fatima makes clear, the pastors of the Church, who in some way cooperate with apostasy, also by their silence, bear a very heavy burden of responsibility.
The most respected studies of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima hold that the third part of the Message or Secret of Fatima has to do with the diabolical forces unleashed upon the world in our time and entering into the very life of the Church, which lead souls away from the truth of the faith and, therefore, from the Divine Love flowing from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus. Our Lady of Fatima makes it clear that only the Faith, which places man in the relationship of unity of heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the mediation of her Immaculate Heart, can save man from the material and spiritual chastisements which rebellion against God necessarily brings upon its perpetrators and upon the whole of both society and the Church. She, therefore, urges daily conversion of life for the salvation of souls and the salvation of the world.
Referring to the punishments necessarily connected with the grave sins of the time, Our Lady, during her apparition on July 13, 1917, announced the peace which God wants to give to souls and to the world. She teaches us that the peace of God will come to the world through two means: the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the practice of the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturday of the month. Our Lady spoke these words to the shepherd children:
To prevent this [the punishment of the world “for its crimes by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father”], I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.
In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world. In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved, etc.
Our Lady indicates the spiritual remedy of the deplorable situation in which the world and the Church find themselves. She also foretold the terrible physical chastisements which would result from the failure to consecrate the agent of the spread of atheistic communism to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through her Immaculate Heart and to undertake the regular practice of reparation for so many offenses committed against the immeasurable and unceasing love of God manifested so perfectly in the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus.
The consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is more needed today than ever. When we witness how the evil of atheistic materialism, which has its roots in Russia, directs in a radical way the government of the People’s Republic of China, we recognize that the great evil of communism must be healed at its roots through the consecration of Russia, as Our Lady has directed. Recognizing the necessity of a total conversion from atheistic materialism and communism to Christ, the call of Our Lady of Fatima to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, in accord with her explicit instruction, remains urgent.
The Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays represents the heart of a coherent life lived in Christ, a union of hearts, one with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We have the assurance of Our Lady that her Immaculate Heart will triumph, that the truth and love of her Divine Son will triumph. We are called to be agents of her triumph by our obedience to her maternal counsel. Let us not forget Sister Lucia’s description of the third part of the Secret, in which she quotes “the Angel with a flaming sword” whom she saw at Our Lady’s left side:
Pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: “Penance, Penance, Penance!”
Sister Lucia then describes the martyrdom of those remaining true to Our Lord, of those who are of one heart, in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with His Most Sacred Heart. Let us not fail to embrace whatever suffering comes from our faithful witness to Him Who is the true treasure of our hearts, to Him Who is the King of Heaven and of Earth.
The reality of the apostasy of faith, manifested in the spread of atheistic materialism in our time, rightly and profoundly frightens us. Our love of Christ and of His Mystical Body, the Church, makes clear to us the gravity of the evil which seeks to rob us of our eternal salvation in Christ. Let us not give way to discouragement but rather remember that the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, assumed into glory, never ceases to beat with love for us, the children whom her Divine Son gave to her, as He was dying upon the Cross. With maternal care, she draws our hearts to her glorious Immaculate Heart, in order to take our hearts to the Divine Heart, the Sacred Heart of God the Son Who is the Son of Mary, which has never ceased to beat with love for us and for our world. She instructs us, as she instructed the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana in their distress: “Do whatever he tells you.” Let us, with the help of the Virgin Mother of God, be prepared to accept whatever sacrifice is asked of us, in order to be faithful brothers and sisters of Christ, faithful soldiers of Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, steadfast cooperators with His grace.
Let us pray daily for the conversion of Russia, and let us take up the way of prayer, penance and reparation, which Our Lady of Fatima teaches us. Let us make our own the prayer taught to the saintly shepherd children by the Angel of Portugal during his first vision:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope [in] and I love You. I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope [in] and do not love You.
Praying thus, let us not forget the words of the same Angel, God’s messenger to the shepherd children to prepare them for the apparitions of the Mother of God:
Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.
Let us never doubt that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are ever open to receive our prayers and to help us in all of our needs.
For our part, let us follow the counsel of the same Angel, given to the shepherd children, during his second apparition: “Offer prayers and sacrifices to the Most High.” Let us do, as the Angel went on to instruct the children:
Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an action of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Guardian Angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.
Let us, in imitation of the saintly shepherd children, happily accept suffering for the sake of the forgiveness of sins and the repair of the disorder which sin always introduces into our personal lives and into the world. Let us be realistic about the great evils which beset the world and the Church, and, at the same time, let us be full of hope in the victory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for which we battle each day with the incomparable spiritual armaments of prayer and penance, and of reparation for sins committed.
I assure you of my daily prayers, asking Our Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, the Fourteen Holy Helpers and Saint Roch, to keep you safe from the evil of the coronavirus COVID-19 and from every other evil. May God bless you and your homes.