Learning to live with the new normal

My original understanding that the goal of lockdowns was not to avert virus-caused deaths, but to postpone them, to spread them out over time.  Now it seems life shall not return to normal until scientists have learned to cure or immunize.  The assumption that this can be done quickly strikes me as optimistic, and we must prepare for the possibility that the media and government will make social distancing essentially permanent.  There will probably always be enough danger of illness from a mutated coronavirus or some other disease to allow journalists to scream that anyone who wants churches open is a murderer.

We must be absolutely clear that social distancing is an evil.  Call it a necessary evil if you must, but it is social connection that is good.  Visiting family and friends in person is good.  Crowded churches are good.  Children playing together in parks is good.  The Western custom of showing one’s face in public (which conservatives used to argue showed the incompatibility of Islam with our way of life before we outdid them in head-covering) was good.  Google hangouts and Zoom are better than nothing, but they are not as good.

If I were a bishop, I would begin preparing a contingency plan for the possibility that meetings of more than 10 worshippers will never again be allowed.  (Even if the number is 20 or 30, some planning of the sort below will be necessary.)  If they are someday, great.  One should still plan for the worst.  It will surely not be time wasted.  We’re going to lose our churches eventually anyway, either from being taxed as punishment for not approving homosexuality or by legal persecution tactics whereby Catholics lose due process protections in sexual abuse accusations.  We will soon be unable to afford buildings that can house more than a dozen souls at a time anyway.  Our leaders display an indolence that should not be confused with principled conservatism and would probably not have carried through any serious preparation until our churches were taken from us.  In this sense, COVID-19 has given us a wonderful opportunity to restructure without hostile media attention and with with a bit more leisure.

Let us say a parish’s priest offers Mass a few times on weekday evenings (each lasting maybe half an hour) and perhaps a couple of times more than that on weekends, for about a hundred Masses a month serving a thousand parishioners.  Everyone could go once per month.  Families would have to be organized into groups of about three families.  Each group would attend Mass  together with the priest that one evening or weekend per month and would be encouraged to meet without the priest for prayer one other time (perhaps outside, if social distancing laws demand it).  Each family would have to submit its available times, and there would be a greater sense of commitment than before having officially agreed to a Mass time and with attending such small groups that their absence would be noticed.

Devising the schedule will be work, but it’s manageable.  Turning priests into Mass-saying machines while still leaving a bit of time for the other sacraments would be an awful burden on them; we could no longer expect them to do much of anything else.

Praying from home as a substitute for Mass cannot go on for 18 months, or however long it is they think a vaccine will take.  It feels silly.  We’ll all be atheists by the end of that time.

Also, if I were a bishop I’d still make all my priests wear body cameras, even now that they have been cut off from all human connections.

All of this would be to make the best of a terrible, terrible situation, but that’s what you’ve got to work with when you’re a Catholic.

10 Responses

  1. “We’re going to lose our churches eventually anyway, either from being taxed as punishment for not approving homosexuality or by legal persecution tactics whereby Catholics lose due process protections in sexual abuse accusations.”
    As to the former, what reason do we have to believe that our bishops will withhold approval of homosexuality to the point of risking tax exemption of Church property – or anything else, for that matter? They never uttered a syllable in protest against the indefinite shuttering of our churches. And if the latter is true, why would you, if a bishop, have all your priests wear body cameras? What difference could that possibly make?

  2. i think he meant it so that the faithful who won’t want to go to church ever again can watch it livestreamed. so, have we made the sacraments digital then? to compete with pornography and videogame streamers?

    besides, a better idea would be for the regular clerics to do livestreaming (at least those not cloistered), and for the secular clergy to attempt to keep the churches open. does a poorly worded statement from the hierarchy have to come out to allow us to get our tires slashed, at least?

    i found it ridiculous that my nearby church was closed and the priest was celebrating alone in it in front of a camera while the people huddled outside around two of the Virgin’s grottos (one of Fatima, one of Schoenstatt). it’s pretty to ask our Blessed Mother to please hand Her Son our pleas… until it rains, and people remember suddenly the distancing and the supposedly deadly virus. with good reason because Floridian rain can be heavy and pneumonia can get you added to the stats, even if coronaless.

    then again, i’m pretty sure there must be braver bishops somewhere. but still. at least the Trumphats ziocons are in control of their political sphere (look at Trump’s ratings, he definitely moved the frame to being the big recovery promoter and doubter of doomsayers), and are better than the decaying Reaganists. sure, the Trumpists and normiecons still have a steep hill to climb as the left also increases in power, through tech, demographics and indoctrination-perversion. but at least it helps that Biden is ridiculously terrible, and swing voters may break right or stay home. it’s hard to tell either way, but at least there’s a race going.

    meanwhile, within Catholicism, trads and even normiecons have dwindled and have to beg the hierarchy for a carved space. within conservative Catholicism even, the normies that think V1 meant papolatry have an outsized influence, and traditionalists are a small niche, if perhaps the only growing segment of the whole faith… alongside charismatics lol. however even if mainstream Catholics had babies again, one has to see the decline of the overall faith among adults due to established secularism.

    so, before casting judgement and thinking all directives from authority are to be obeyed, at least we should have some moral authority ourselves. who knows, maybe we need to shed weight through these trials, or otherwise change through slow burning. however, i fear we leave the gold and keep the lead…

    guess we can only keep the Faith.

  3. Your last point is key, d.deacon. It’s been suggested that shedding membership automatically leads to a healthier Church because it leaves the most committed. I myself used to believe that, at some point, we’d bottom out with only the solid core of immovables. However, we’ve been shedding for decades at a tremendous rate, and there’s no evidence of this strengthening commitment of the remnant. Maybe loosing so many members demoralizes the clergy, or maybe it encourages the secular world to turn up the pressure. Whatever the explanation is, the expectation that a smaller Church will be a purer Church has thus far been empirically disproven.

  4. on sexual abuse, we might just give “sacerdos simplex” a limited run, notice it doesn’t fix anything if the culture is not changed, then can it again or just make it optional for missionary areas. same for deaconesses, which should be considered a lay order even. the point is, if traditional Catholicism has no impact on the culture, then such changes would be worthless even if they worked; because even if many married priests joined up, if they worship pachamamas with the deaconesses leading the singing in tribal tongues whose interpretation we don’t know (and perhaps fooling around with deaconesses and altar girls and nuns, as happened last time Catholicism had married secular priesthood – yes, it was continent and maybe this didn’t help, but they did have carnal relations before orders so it was a better deal than regular clergy – and yet it was not contained), it is all for nought.

    btw i thought permanent deacons were supposed to fix the “priests seem to hang around only young men too much” problem. i don’t see the great big orthodox revival based on chad married priests either, in fact they seem too top-heavy precisely because of this measure which vastly increases the ranks of the clergy when compared to the otherworldly laity – no wonder they did little evangelizing other than Russia, which eventually turned on its face a hundred years ago with a forceful backlash of larger, vengeful errors.

  5. agreed Bonald, the “let the impurities be purged, then the pure will outbreed and rule the future” theory, whether from trads or moderns, assumes only “impurities” will be purged; which isn’t true as the world tries to take away ANY one of us, including the high-IQ or whatever, through many varying temptations. for example, how many “learned” post-V2 priests were told it’s ok to just leave orders after a few years, and intellectualized themselves into falling for this?

    besides that, this theory assumes there always was enough “purity” to be left behind after the purging – when in reality like you say it seems the Faith gets demoralized anyway. perhaps this is not due to losing members for so many decades, but more because the faithful aren’t receiving barely any useful guidance to resist this; other than the usual post-V2 “pastoral” paeans that have moderns begging for more and trads begging for less, with none being pleased…

    and that’s the problem. it’s one thing to go through persecutions that test us, as they are traditionally assumed to be both temporary as well as something to fight against, therefore generating martyrs and confessors. this is why early Christians gained in conversions in spite of hiding in catacombs and otherwise enduring legit physical tribulations – they were carrying their Christian duty. today’s Christians neither convert others, nor actually tend to find it in their hearts to convert themselves, and therefore the situation is not comparable; the world persecutes and lords it over them, but in such a subtle way many only figure it when it’s late.

    the few shining spots are the increases of ordinations and conversions among FSSP and other trad groups. but this mustard seed must not only be cared for, it should hopefully grow into the strongest tree soon too. if not, we stay too small and get caught in between the chaff, like our low-church Prot friends…

  6. @d.deacon: The problem with pointing to trad groups for growth is that there is a risk that segments of the trad movement will deform and morph into non-Catholic sects that present themselves as bastions of Catholic orthodoxy. The “wheat” that remains when the “chaff” burns away might not even be wheat. The liberal who knows he’s a heretic according to pre-Vatican II standards is in a sense preferable a zealot that is unaware of the unorthodoxy of his beliefs. The average Joe in the pews who is Catholic out of reflex (or tribal loyalty, as Bonald has discussed) is probably preferable to both. Apologies for the text wall.

    The hierarchical structure of the Catholic church (and the Orthodox church, and the Anglicans) operates as a moderating influence, that keeps religious eccentricity and novelty from getting out of hand. See GK Chesterton’s comment that, if not for the Catholic hierarchy enforcing standards of orthodoxy, the early monastic movement could have became some sort of gnostic mystery religion.

    American trads are tend to be anti-hierarchy, for very understandable reasons (more than a few US bishops should have probably been sent to prison for covering up sex abuse), but in so doing they risk lapsing into eccentricity and novelty, in ways that mirror American non-hierarchical protestant sects.

    For instance, parts of the trad movement (and non-Catholics like Rod Drehr) favor the idea of starting intentional communities apart from mainstream American life. This is without precedent in Catholicism–monasteries are for celibate religious devoted to a life a prayer, not families with children–and more closely resembles Anabaptism and Hasidic Judaism. I’d imagine Catholic intentional communities would, over time, look less Catholic and more Mennonite or Hasidic.

    Likewise, there is a tendency towards, basically, a Catholic take on Adventism–the belief that the ends times are near. The difference is that post-protestant Adventists look to the Bible (JWs) and their own cult’s prophets (7th day Adventists), while Catholic Adventists look to church-approved private revelations. Christopher Ferrera for instance rejects that Vatican’s position on the third secret of Fatima because the “real” third secret must have been some sort of apocalyptic prophecy, not something as mundane and boring as the USSR collapsing and the Pope being shot. There is a cottage industry of scouring private revelations for end times messages. Note that these private revelations might not be real! Even Fatima. They’re simply “worthy of belief” and need not be taken as a matter of faith, much less obsessed over. A Catholic doing this in the 19th century would pin them as a loon, not a “traditionalist”.

    Finally, there is the “grifter” risk. The charismatic preacher that tricks suckers out of their money doesn’t really exist in Catholicism (or Anglicanism and Orthodoxy), in the way that it does in the free-wheeling protestant world. In Evelyn Waugh’s novel “The Loved One”, the English protagonist reacts in shock that his American interlocutor’s father “lost money in religion”, specially Aimee MacPherson’s Four Square Gospel Temple, something the Anglican-raised Englishman has no concept of. Many lay traditionalist media personalities operate their “apostolates” on a similar model as baptist and pentecostal preachers. Even if there intentions are good, and they do some good work, there is a risk that their “preaching” become distorted with a financial goal in mind. This overlaps with Adventism, because end-times prophesy stuff is inherently entertaining, as the massive success of the “Left Behind” novels demonstrates.

    Traditionalist priests tend to be far more on the reservation and Catholic than their lay advocates, the deformations I list above being a result of a protestantizing tendency that sees the priest as suspect but never the “orthodox layman”. The orthodox layman with a podcast has his Quaker inner-light, with no need of those pesky with Holy Orders.

    If the Catholic laity had direct input on doctrine, the majority faction of the laity would pushed the church to full-on liberal Protestantism long ago, as ample polling demonstrates, and various minorities would have adopted eccentric, Branch Davidian-tier heresies.

  7. i agree with your points GW, however perhaps they are exaggerated. saying the charismatics in Catholicism are not grifters just because they don’t livestream is a severe understatement, and disingenuous tbh. charismatic “healing masses” are great money-makers, whatever the validity of the gifts if any were indeed conferred by the Holy Spirit.

    if your concern is the possibility of rebellion, well even sedes recognize “the office of the Pope” if not the Popes themselves; and FSSP is within the hierarchy, and it’s growing and even celebrated pre-1955 Holy Week this year. as for the Benedictine Option or other weird stuff, that was advocated by the typical JP2 lovers and political neocons for a bit and fizzled out. i don’t think it caught on, as trad Catholics tend to know there’s a regular clergy for that. i agree though that the SSPX and sedes can be like right-wing Protestants at times, however at least they could be more easily brought back to the fold because a big part of Catholic tradition is obedience to the Holy See; meanwhile Protestants have rebellion as default in their hearts.

    speaking of that, you mention that trads overemphasize the end times like the Prots, and i would agree sometimes. however, other than the endless Fatima quibble about the 3rd secret (nonwithstanding this quibble also happens within the novus ordo left-right factions, and there’s many more private revelations about the end times anyway) their positions are much more in line with tradition than what Prots do with their Zionist Dispensationalism. yes, trads overemphasize the fear of God at times, but it’s good to have a bit of it – else we get scared at a virus that kills 0.1% (or less) of the population at worst. 19th century Catholics saw some of these private revelations mind you, and many believed anyway and bled for the Faith as it was being attacked by liberals of the time. these liberals by the way broke up monasteries and started to make the Church more dependent on the central governments than ever – ergo having to cutting ever more slack to liberalism and in the end to the smoke of Satan. so tradition matters even in the real-world tribal way you and Bonald mention, not just for intellectualizing.

    finally, the liberals (save some worthy exceptions) don’t know they are heretics either, in fact they think trads are new-Pharisees and Pope Francis does what Jesus would have done in every instance; so the comparison is invalid. the average Joe who doesn’t know the difference may still be saved because he may have been sincerely misled, and he probably is more at peace than a minority of neurotics among trads; however it would be easier for him to be saved if he also attempted to be orthodox, not just faithful. because faith without works is dead, remember? besides, your last paragraph shows the truth, the average-Joe Catholic laity is mostly deluded by the world, so why are trads so worthy of getting fingers pointed at by comparison? yes, some are eccentric and hateful, but most would AND should still welcome our prodigal brothers with open arms you know… heck i even attend insufferable novus ordo with them, because they were taught “priests were bad when they didn’t speak vernacular and looked away from people” by the South American Jesuits, as if they were good now…

    (and no, i don’t know the truth in the “validity of novus ordo sacraments” debate, which is why i rather gather with the people that received the same sacraments i did, in the hope they won’t be scared of ad orientem sometime)…

  8. and fwiw i think the novus ordo could still exist, specially for converts, children, and peoples who may have a longer time in understanding Latin. i was raised in novus ordo, and seen some who do live holy lives going to those masses (the good liturgies usually, not the far out there or boring ones). however these are obedient and faithful exceptions to the decline, and may have been solid TLM Catholics today if V2 had never happened. ergo due to this low effectiveness save for specific groups, novus ordo should be an option, not the rule; perhaps could replace low masses mostly as well. and of course, it should be brought in line with traditional Breviary, traditional Bible, traditional calendar, traditional Rosary (make the Light Mysteries an optional “St JP2 Chaplet”), maybe even (translated) prayers from older Western Rites, etc. in fact, the real deal would be translating the TLM to vernacular as best as possible, however it may be better to keep it pristine so as to avoid the fate of Prots and Orthodox.

  9. “The Western custom of showing one’s face in public (…) was good. ”

    It was, until the surveillance state and facial recognition software and so on. Now it is more ambigious. It is illegal over here to cover your face during a political demonstration, rally. This law was recently made and is obviously hugely suspicious to me. Isn’t it neat that there is an excuse now? Even when it will become not mandatory, it will be so culturally ingrained that “sorry, officer, I just did not want to catch the flu” would likely work as an excuse. Isn’t it neat that the people who have put CCTV everywhere in the UK are probably banging their foreheads against a wall now? Everybody in the Outer Right is highly suspicious of how much Big Data and the government knows about us, isn’t it neat that they shot themselves in the foot by coming up with something that makes their cameras far less good at recognizing us? This cloud definitely has some silver linings, I think.

  10. ^^ yes, there are some silver linings such as the justification of masks due to the wuflu. plus, if you on the other hand don’t want to wear one, you can carry a printout regarding your “respiratory condition” (which is technically true, masks make you breathe in co2 and germs after some time has passed).

    that said, i’ve heard the Chinese are learning from their past oppression seasons, and already have or are devising new facial recognition software that can somehow peek under the mask, probably using heat sensors and perhaps recognition of the upper face (eyes specially). i hope that was just a bad rumor, but have heard such tactic has been used against hongkongers; which is why they carry not just masks, but lasers around as well, to blind the cameras.

    furthermore, the stronger surveillance will come from phones, and from the medical info carried within. contact tracing is already being embedded in Apple iOS and more devices to come, and such software is already being used in discriminating against those unlucky to be positive but asymptomatic. heck, i’ve read thanks to gps, it can be shown that you were close to someone positive.

    brave new world. stunning and brave, actually.

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