Rorate Caeli

St Rosalia, St Gregory, St Charles Borromeo: Where have you gone in this time of crisis?

With apologies to our international readers, I continue with my observations vis a vis the world crisis caused by the Corvid-19 pandemic with respect to the Catholic Church in the United States.   But I believe that what is happening in the United States both with respect to the rapid spread of the virus and the deep problems this is causing—and also what it exposes about the Catholic Church in this country-- should be of interest to every Catholic in the world.  I begin with today’s edition of the New York Times, the bête noir of the American Catholic world.  

There are two articles there of relevance to the singular situation in which Americans find themselves, and specifically in which Catholic Americans find themselves.  The first is in the Arts section of the Friday New York Times.  On the first page of this section there is a color photograph of the painting by Van Dyck of “Saint Rosalia interceding for the Plague-stricken of Palermo”.  This painting was to be included in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the near future, but now  is itself in quarantine because of the imposed quarantine imposed on the city of New York on all museums because of the Corona Virus.  The writer of the article comments on the irony of the quarantine of the painting in the present situation. But he explains the origin of the painting during a terrible plague in Sicily in the 17th century, when Van Dyck was in Sicily to paint a number of paintings of St. Rosalia, and how he hunkered down in Palermo during the plague, painted the paintings, and went on with his life.  It was during this terrible plague that, for circumstances that are still not clear, a group of men were inspired to dig up the bones of a 12th century woman hermit known for her holiness named Rosalia, related to Roger II of Sicily.  Those bones were carried through the streets of Palermo and the plague decreased in intensity.  And ever since then the Sicilians of Palermo have a great feast on July 15 in thanksgiving for the intercession of St. Rosalia that stopped the plague.  The writer of the article ends with this:

Rosalia will be there for us when “Making the Met” eventually opens, and in July, we have to hope she will remind us of a Palermo that is finished with lockdowns. “Viva Palermo and St. Rosalia!” they shout every year as the image of the Van Dyke parades through the capital amid a crush of bodies,,,,,(in which) I usually find claustrophobic but now find myself desperate to recover.”

And on the editorial page of the same edition of the NY Times is an op-ed by David Brooks, who is on a journey from Judaism to Christianity.  His piece is entitled “The Moral Meaning of the Plague”. One wishes he were a Catholic bishop in what he writes.  He asks three questions and then concludes with an observation about suffering.

Are you ready to die? If your lungs filled with fluid a week from Tuesday would you be content with the life you’ve lived?
What would you do if a loved one died? Do you know where your most trusted spiritual and relational resources lie/
What role do you play in this crisis? What is the specific way you are situated to serve?

And finally his best paragraph that should have been written by a Catholic bishop or priest but so far has not:

Suffering can be redemptive.  We learn more about ourselves in these hard periods.  The difference between red and blue don’t seem as acute on the gurneys of the E.R., but the inequality in the world seems more obscene when the difference between rich and poor is life or death.. 

Imagine if that had been written by a Catholic bishop! Little chance in the current situation.  CEOs do not write things like that.  Those that are not acquainted with grief in the deepest sense do not write things like that .  Those who value the intellect in growth in faith do not talk like that. This is not, however,  to deny that  there are very fine Catholic bishops in this country indeed.

NBC News announced today that some Roman Catholic bishops around the country are relieving the “faithful” of giving up meat on Fridays since they are already deprived of some food and other pleasures during the coronavirus pandemic.  The Most Rev. James Cecchio, the bishop of Metuchen in Piscataway, New Jersey announced yesterday:  “Given the difficulties of obtaining some types of food and the many other sacrifices we are suddenly experiencing given the coronavirus, I have granted a dispensation from abstaining from meat on Fridays, except Good Friday, which is universal law.”  I will not bother to quote the other bishops who have issued similar statements.

The question is this:  what world do these bishops live in? A world in which they have no idea how the normal family operates with respect to daily food.  What the normal Catholic does is to see what is available at the market for Friday and makes do.  If it is Corn Flakes, that is what the family eats on Friday, with the parents explaining to the children why this is dinner and now in Lent.  And how wonderful this is, because why we are eating something that we do not prefer is part of what the sacrifice of Lent means.  The bishops have not a clue.  Why this is so is a subject for another article.  The short answer is the secularization of the Catholic Church in this country—and in most parts of the world.  St. Rosalia in Palermo  and St. Gregory in plague ridden Rome in the sixth century and St. Charles Borromeo in plague stricken Milano in the sixteenth century would seem to have little relevance to twenty-first century United States.  But instead of streaming (!) Masses and streaming Holy Week services, what about one bishop walking through the streets of his diocese carrying a crucifix and blessing every home and business on his way?  

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla