#COVID-19

On Bishops and Bellyachers

I was in the grocery store when I snapped. It was two months into lockdown. As an immune-compromised person, I’d begun my Coronavirus journey cautiously—staying in, and wearing an N-95 mask if I had to go out. My roommate had been shopping for the items we were unable to get delivered. So it’d been some time since I’d experienced the outside world, and the transformation was jolting.

Perhaps it was the decimated dairy case—particularly perplexing because I’d read that many dairy farmers had dumped their milk for lack of demand. We, however, were clearly suffering from an acute lack of supply. Perhaps it was the purchase limits on other items I knew farmers were being forced to trash due to an alleged drop in demand—like potatoes. Perhaps it was the one-way aisles and big red Xs taped to the floor in the checkout line at designated standing positions, making me feel like so much herded cattle. Perhaps it was the saran wrap over the keypad on the card reader—as if customers wouldn’t touch it just as often as they would’ve touched bare buttons; as if saran wrap were self-sanitizing. Or perhaps it was the flip-flop on single-use plastic bags. The San Francisco area municipalities deemed them a grave environmental evil and banned them several years ago–but now they’ve done a 180: reusable bags are now the public nuisance because they might spread the virus, and single-use plastic has been restored to a-okay status.

It might’ve been any one of those things that ruptured the shackles of my complacency; more likely it was the accumulation of all that nonsense in addition to the stupidity and government overreach I’d been reading about in other regions. At any rate, the real enemy had revealed its monstrous face, and it wasn’t a virus: it was the renunciation of reason and the fetishization of fear. It was the mad dash toward despotism being made in the name of safety. I’d seen the enemy, and I’d made up my mind to wage war against it, even if I went to jail or caught my death of COVID-19—or both—in the process.

I fear life amidst tyranny more than death of any kind.

So when I heard about the Liberty Fest rally at the California State Capitol on the 23rd, there was no question about my attendance. As a Catholic, I felt it was imperative to protest the closure of churches, and as a writer, I felt it was important to bear witness.

I’d read that there’d been arrests at previous protests, so I made preparations for that possibility. I coached my roommate on what to do if she received my call from jail, and gave her my father’s phone number in case she needed to raise bail. I then contacted my dad, who is sympathetic and supportive, and advised him that if my roommate called, he could rest assured that I hadn’t broken any Constitutionally valid laws. 

Then I set out for the Capitol.

What I found there was nothing short of exhilarating. It was a little slice of normal—the old normal, the real normal. A tiny island of nerve and pluck in a seething ocean of worry and panic. A party at a funeral. The mood was positive, excited, energized. And the crowd was diverse. Although some leftist outlets have chosen to focus their reporting on the presence of “extremist groups,” I saw nothing of the kind as I circulated through the crowd. 

I did see families and individuals of all races, tattooed bikers both male and female, beautiful Latinas dressed like 1950’s pin-up girls, dark-suited pastors, military members in uniform, a blue-haired religious liberty protestor, a hippie drum circle, and a man in a Guy Fawkes mask.

The majority of the people were like me—there to protest the closure of churches. I’d estimate that 65% of the homemade signs were religious liberty-related. I decided to talk to these people. 

I spoke to countless Christians from all over California. I spoke to Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and other mainline Protestants. Outnumbering them were the Evangelicals—they came from so many different churches, it made my head spin.

But out of all those names and faces, two stand out: Emma Gonzales and her daughter, Donna Estrada.

What makes these two ladies special? They’re the only Catholics I met. Of the countless Christians I spoke to, only these two shared my particular faith.  

They seemed surprised to meet a fellow Catholic. They’d attended every lockdown protest at the Capitol, in spite of the great distance from their home in Southern California. At the previous rally, they’d brought a bundle of rosaries Emma had made to give away for free. They’d had only one taker—just one person was willing to accept a free rosary. This explained why they were surprised to meet me; they had not encountered any other Catholics to speak of in their previous protests.

I was shocked. I expected more. I expected better. I’d spent I don’t even know how many hours on social media reading Catholic-penned posts complaining about the closure of our churches and the failure of our bishops to do anything about it. But when an opportunity for action had presented itself, those same “fed up” people had chosen to stay on the bench and let others play the game.

I couldn’t help but think about our local bishops and their lack of decisive action. I live across the street from a Catholic church, and within the pages of their bulletin, I’d seen several updates about the bishops’ alleged actions to promote re-opening our churches. These updates were generally trite and empty assurances that our leaders were leading, but were occasionally slaps in the face to anyone reading between the lines, such as this quote from Bishop Michael Barber in a recent parish email:

When I was interviewed by KGO Channel 7 and KTVU Channel 2, I made the point that if churches follow the same safety protocols as Safeway or Home Depot or the tattoo parlor, why can’t we reopen?  I think it is reasonable and absolutely necessary we follow safety procedures.  It is not reasonable, and it is a violation of our religious freedom, if the government tells us we cannot reopen “because we are a church”.  As a diocese, we have voluntarily closed our churches for worship.  Nevertheless, I declined to sign the petition to reopen on Pentecost.

He might as well have said, “I’m putting on a tough face for the press, but when the cameras stop rolling and it’s time to actually do something, I won’t, even though I know it’s ridiculous to assert that an abortion clinic is safer than the house of God. Oh, and in case you forgot, I’m responsible for squelching the Mass—I did this voluntarily.” 

Then there’s San Francisco’s ironically named Archbishop Cordileone, who recently wrote

I am also well aware of the spiritual distress that so many of our people are experiencing due to the unavailability of attending Mass in person.  I therefore wish to send you this communication to update you on steps we are taking to reopen for public Mass here in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. 

The thing is, his “communication” says little to nothing about any concrete steps toward re-opening. It’s just mumbo jumbo about how he’s “been joining brother bishops in California for our weekly videoconference meetings to discuss the current situation”; how he’s “consulted with top experts in the fields of health care and epidemiology”; and his “form[ing] a committee of pastors and lay people to draft safety protocols.” The whole thing sounds like a bureaucratic shell game designed to distract the laity into thinking Big Things are being done, while in reality the action being taken is Big Fat Nothing. His Excellency can (and probably will) natter away with the other feckless California bishops and so-called “experts” for weeks, or even months; he can draft more safety protocols than there are commandments in the old law–and none of that will actually restore the Mass to a single starving soul.

But ensuring his flock is properly fed is actually very simple–he need do but one small thing which requires no input or approval from anyone else. All he has to do is tell our priests to go back to work.

Adding to the absurdity of both bishops’ stances is the fact that they have kept churches open for private prayer. Apparently that’s safe, but Mass isn’t. The people sit in the same pews. They breathe the same air. They pray to the same God. And they take the same safety precautions that could be taken if Mass were to be offered. But one is kosher while the other is verboten. This makes absolutely no sense unless the Liturgy itself is somehow virulent. 

Perhaps that’s what the bishops privately believe. 

Both bishops take great pains to emphasize their cooperation with state and local authorities, including Governor Newsom. Bishop Barber writes on the Oakland Diocese’s website that “the Catholic bishops of California are working with the Governor’s Office.” And Abp. Cordileone states that, when it comes to the resumption of public Masses, “We all agree that we should do this in sync with government regulations.” 

In a state like California—which has all but declared open war on Catholicism—working with the political leaders and following regulations is like pushing the self-destruct button. In a battle to save your life, you cannot “work with” someone who wants you dead. To trust such a person to consider your best interests—to count on them to help you survive—is not only naive, it’s suicidal.

And the fruits of the bishops’ efforts to “work with” the state government—California’s guidelines for re-opening churches—reveal this in spades. The government is attempting to regulate virtually every aspect of our worship, down to the manner in which we receive Holy Communion. And they’re attempting to prohibit the cornerstone of the Eastern Catholic Liturgy, without which there can be no service whatsoever—singing.

So much for “working with” the authorities.

If our bishops really had our spiritual health in mind—if they really were lionhearted—they would’ve followed the example of Minnesota’s bishops and re-opened our churches in defiance of Newsom’s stay-at-home order. There’s no reason why limiting attendance and social distancing couldn’t keep people equally safe at Mass as the identical provisions have for in-church private prayer. It raises the obvious question: why don’t our bishops want us to go to Mass? There’s no possible answer that isn’t either frightening, disgusting, infuriating, or some combination thereof.

I’m reminded of the adage I’ve heard the parish old timers use often: We get the leaders we deserve. My experience at the Capitol affirmed this. Are you a discontented Catholic, angry that we have complacent cowards at best, and criminal perverts at worst, as bishops? Then stop acting like a complacent coward yourself. Stop bellyaching on Facebook about how bad things are and start working to make them better. Get out of your comfort zone and into the battle zone–we’re not called the Church Militant for nothing.

If you’re not willing to make sacrifices to save and sanctify your Church, don’t be surprised when your Church is the thing being sacrificed.

We are all, collectively, the Body of Christ. While you sit on your La-Z-Boy hiding behind whiny tweets, the rest of us can accomplish nothing. The fingertips may wish to move forward, but if the other parts are too indolent and fearful to budge, the entire body languishes. So quit assuming someone else will solve our crisis; the hierarchy is a pack of wolves, and your fellow laypeople are as lazy as you are. Stand up already, and awaken your snoozing Catholic friends, too. 

The time to act is now. And the right person for the job is you.

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The Last Time I Slow-Danced With Death

Originally published at The Stream

It seemed so Providential. So heaven-sent. So meant to be. And perhaps it was. Perhaps I will never really know for sure.

What I do know is, when I saw her email sitting in my inbox, my heart skipped a beat. My article on ancient child sacrifice and the modern abortion epidemic, in which I’d quoted this woman—interviewed while seeking an abortion—had only been up for about three hours. But she had obviously seen it—why else would she be emailing me? 

I swallowed the lump in my throat and opened the message. I fully expected to see a string of curses and epithets directed at me personally. What I found, however, surprised me. The message was respectfully written—complimentary, even; and, although the author did take issue with some of what I’d written, she’d done so in a cool-headed and reasonable fashion. 

This was clearly not your typical hysterical, off-the-rails, rabid pro-abort. I decided right then and there to try to change her mind.

Since abortion was temporarily outlawed in her state due to the coronavirus pandemic, I figured I had a bit of time to work on her. So I decided to take it slowly. In that first reply to her, I focused on thanking her for her civility and trying to explain the writing choices with which she had taken issue. I also expressed my compassion for her situation by explaining that I myself was post-abortive.

Late that night, she wrote me a beautiful, heartfelt reply. She included grisly details of her medical condition, which was severe. She also described her dire financial situation. She’d been living paycheck-to-paycheck as a single mom, without any familial support, until she lost her job entirely as a result of the pandemic. She even included a photo of her two adorable sons. All of this made me feel incredibly close to her in spite of the hundreds of miles between us. She ended by expressing her belief that pro-lifers are zealots who force their beliefs onto others and disregard women’s rights.

Well, I had to respond, not only because of her misconceptions, but because of the bond with her I now felt. However, I didn’t want to respond with words alone. I wanted to respond with concrete resources and solutions to help her choose life, because the obstacles she’d presented were both real and daunting. 

This is where social media proved its merits. I posted that I was seeking support services in her area. Within minutes I had the names and addresses of crisis pregnancy centers, phone numbers for pro-life counseling hotlines, and a dozen other life-affirming resources, all in her general vicinity.

Having gotten my ducks in a row, I sat down to write my reply. I thanked her for sharing so much with me and told her how privileged I felt that she had given me such an intimate glimpse into her world. Then I answered her complaints about pro-life “zealots”:

I wish you could be a fly on the wall in my apartment–better yet, in my mind and my heart. … After I read your heart-rending message, I spent the entirety of my morning and early afternoon combing through my contacts, making phone calls, sending emails—hunting down people in your area who are prepared to help you in a tangible and substantial way. 

I then listed all of the resources I had gathered for her, and said: “If you knew how many people were involved in obtaining this information—people who have all been touched by your story … your perception of ‘people like me’ might soften.”

Lastly, I told her a bit of my story. I told her about the two abortions I’d had—how they’d damaged my mind, body, and soul in ways that I will regret for the rest of my life. I told her I wouldn’t wish what I’d been through on anyone, and particularly not on her. I pleaded with her to at least consult the resources I’d listed and explore all of her options before making a decision that would change her life forever.

Within minutes, she replied. She said she hadn’t read my entire email, but promised to do so later. “However,” she continued, “I want you to know I’ve already obtained access to an abortion, with much difficulty, so I didn’t want you to continue using your time to seek resources for me. I do appreciate your empathy.”

My heart sank, but I made a conscious decision not to abandon hope. After all, she only said she’d “obtained access,” not that she’d gone through with it. I made an urgent plea for prayers via my social network.

At this point, I was connected to someone who personally committed to paying all of the mom’s expenses over and above what the pregnancy centers could cover—including her rent, utilities, and medical expenses. “I am not limited in what I can give,” this saintly woman said in a very emotional telephone conversation. “Please give her my number and ask her to call me.”

So I made a last-ditch effort and sent another message. I notified the mother of this new offer and gave her the benefactor’s name and phone number. “As for me,” I concluded, “I will still be here, no matter what you decide. If you ever need to talk, you know how to reach me.”

After that, I played the waiting game. I tried to distract myself with a sewing project, but still found myself jumping every time I heard the new email notification on my phone.

Finally, her reply came: “I am no longer pregnant…” The words were a kick in the gut. I felt dizzy. I almost couldn’t read her closing words of thanks for my concern, time, and empathy as the tears began to flow.

I was beside myself. A child had been murdered. And a woman—a woman to whom I had come to feel deeply connected—was now broken in a way that could never be fixed this side of eternity. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to tear my hair out.

I got in my car and started to drive. As I got on the freeway, I finally felt sufficiently alone to unleash the scream I’d been restraining deep within. “Why, God? Why, why, why … ” I couldn’t stop wailing. 

I still haven’t figured out the answer.

I’m trying to console myself with the knowledge that I proved pro-lifers to be deeply caring people to someone who had thought of us as cruel would-be dictators. I’m trying to console myself with the knowledge that God transforms all evil into good. I’m trying to console myself with the hope that I planted a seed that may someday blossom into a conversion.

Yet a baby is still dead. A woman is still irreparably wounded. And my heart is still shattered.

But was it worth the fight? Absolutely.

Will I do it again? You’d better believe it.

Will I lose more battles? Indubitably. 

And I will inevitably suffer additional heartbreaks that’ll hurt just as much as this one. 

But here’s the crux: I know I am doing the right thing, because it honors the Author of Life. 

And nothing else matters.

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Child Sacrifice in the COVID-19 Era

Originally published at OnePeterFive

“It’s very difficult for us to recapture people’s motivations for carrying out this practice … Perhaps it was out of … a sense that the good the sacrifice could bring the family or community as a whole outweighed the life of the child.” — Dr. Josephine Quinn, on Carthaginian ritual infant sacrifice

“The reasons and need for abortion (health, severe diagnoses, financial, protection of family resources, etc) do not go away during a pandemic. In fact, they are likely to be exacerbated.” —Jen Villavicencio, MD 

In the midst of, and as a result of, our current global pandemic, the battle over abortion has escalated to a fever pitch. Five states—Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Iowa—have declared abortion non-essential, and have effectively banned the procedure for the duration of the outbreak. Planned Parenthood and so-called “abortion rights” groups, however, have filed lawsuits against all five states, and it remains to be seen whether these bans will be upheld in the higher courts.

Meanwhile, the abortion lobby is pushing back hard, not just against the bans, but for increasing access to unsupervised DIY medical abortions, arguing that prescriptions for abortion pills should be made available via telemedicine, without an in-person appointment at any point in the process— allowing women to literally flush their children down the toilet without any supervision whatsoever. 

Both sides are gearing up for a fight to the finish. And the coronavirus may be what definitively propels this nation in one direction or the other—toward sane provisions for the protection of life or irretrievably further into the black hole of the culture of death.

Did anyone see this coming? If we didn’t, we probably should have—because where God has been abandoned, societies have always devolved into using child sacrifice as a means of solving their problems, especially in times of crisis.

The ancient Carthaginians, for example, sacrificed newborns at locations called tophets. It is thought that these sacrifices “may … have been seen as a philanthropic act for the good of the whole community,” states Dr. Josephine Quinn, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford. Some experts conjecture that these sacrifices were instruments of population control and  that well-to-do Carthaginians used them as a means of preserving their wealth.

Child sacrifice is a well-documented facet of early Mesoamerican cultures. For example, at El Manatí, an Olmec “sacred place” dedicated largely to the worship of water, archaeologists Ortiz and Rodriguez unearthed countless bones of “newborn (and possibly unborn) human babies,” including “infants whose bodies had apparently been dismembered and/or cut into sections” interred alongside figures of pagan deities.

Franciscan Friar and missionary Bernardino de Sahagún documented the child sacrifice rituals of the Aztecs in great detail. One of their gods, Tlaloc, required the tears of these children to wet the earth, else the rains would not come—so they believed. Consequently, if the children did not cry, priests would tear off their fingernails prior to the sacrifice.

According to researcher Andrew K. Scherer, the Maya also performed child sacrifice in a variety of circumstances. Infant sacrifices, for example, might be performed to appease supernatural beings who might otherwise have eaten the souls of more important people.

In Peru, the Chimú people sacrificed children “to appease the El Niño [weather] phenomenon,” according to archaeologist Feren Castillo. The later Inca culture drugged their child victims with alcohol and coca (the leaf from which cocaine is made) prior to their sacrifices, which were performed on a variety of occasions, including during wars and natural disasters.

Today, two of the most common justifications for abortion are financial unpreparedness, and a desire to control family size—echoes of Carthage. Another common justification is the prioritization of personal goals, like career and education, over the birth of a child—me over you—echoes of the Maya. Bernie Sanders thinks abortion can help save the world from climate change—echoes of the Aztecs and Chimú. Planned Parenthood dismembers pre-born children and sells their parts for profit—echoes of the Olmecs. 

What’s perhaps most disturbing, however, are the echoes of the Incas. Like them, many are using a natural disaster—in our case, a pandemic—to justify the slaughter of our children.

Take, for example, Heather Artrip, a Texas woman currently seeking an abortion who said: “I … would like to have a third child at some point. Right now is not ideal considering we are experiencing a global crisis, a pandemic.” Then there’s Kamyon Conner, the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, who claimed now was a ‘particularly bad time’ to restrict abortion, since coronavirus-related unemployment is making it even more difficult to financially support a child, and women may worry about the consequences of being pregnant during a pandemic. 

Meera Shah, chief medical officer for a New York City area Planned Parenthood affiliate, stated: “Abortion care is essential and life-affirming, especially now when there is so much insecurity around jobs and food and paychecks and childcare.” She continued, “People are really thinking hard about continuing their pregnancy right now. It feels scary for a lot of people.” She also stated that she has noticed an uptick in their number of abortion appointments.

If women are so scared to be pregnant right now that they are considering and choosing abortion, the environment on social media is certainly not helping. Dr. Jasmine Patel, Ob-Gyn, tweeted: “By postponing abortions, you are sentencing a woman to pregnancy that has more risks [sic] for her health and transmission of #COVID19.” Lara Adams-Miller, a self-proclaimed “biological healthcare professional” (whatever that means), tweeted that the state abortion bans are “particularly sinister in light of how at-risk pregnant women are to srs covid-19 [sic] complications.” Kae Bender likened unplanned/unwanted pregnancy during the pandemic to “torture,” and Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, called it “inhuman.” 

And then there are the folks who are overtly advocating abortion as a response to the pandemic, like Heather4amazon on Twitter, who stated: “What costs more resources[:] 1) a doctor’s visit and a couple of pills[, or] 2) months of prenatal visits and birth[,] resulting in a hospital stay[?]” And, perhaps most blunt of all, Hayley Vecchio said this on Facebook:

You might be thinking that modern-day abortion, although perhaps done for the same reasons, is not the same as ancient ritual infant sacrifice. For one thing, where’s the ritual? 

Believe it or not, it is not at all uncommon for women to engage in some kind of ritual behavior around their abortion experience. This phenomenon is described in Dr. Susan T. Poppema’s book Why I Am an Abortion Doctor:

Some women … stage what amounts to rituals around the procedures. A patient came in recently with her partner and brought candles, clearly making the experience a ritual way of saying, “I am proud of myself for making this choice, also sad about the choice.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A simple web search yielded dozens of pre-scripted abortion rituals. I found several with neo-pagan overtones, for example, including this

Bless You, Rachamaima, Compassionate Nurturer of Life, who helps us choose life. Amen. I was on the abortion table when this prayer just came to me, addressed in the feminine … Divinity here is a compassionate, female gestater of life … During the abortion, my partner kept whispering the prayer in my ear, over and over, the syllables incantatory.

Another quasi-Jewish abortion ritual has two parts—“the first is for casting out, and the second is for purifying, or cleansing.” It involves multiple people, includes scripted prayers to the “Divine Presence,” and utilizes two bowls of water—one of which is meant to represent the mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath for purification—and bread crumbs. The perversion of the mikveh into an abortion ritual appears to be fairly common. Then there’s this Judeo-pagan “self-birthing” abortion ritual, also involving a mikveh element, which focuses on affirming one’s own “inner beauty and Divine sparks,” and “involves blessing of the newborn/renewed self.” It is essentially self-worship.

The Pregnancy Options website has very conveniently compiled abortion rituals for and from virtually every faith tradition, including a Native American ritual, a Buddhist ritual, a pagan ritual, and a ritual “based on Christian and … African-American [c]ultural [t]raditions” involving “a plant, water in a container … a white candle, a glass or metal bowl (in which paper can be burned)” and ancestor worship. One of the many elaborate pre-scripted prayers in this particular ritual states:

I embrace my faith and African principles that empower me to choose. I choose because God has entrusted me with the power of choice. I choose for myself thereby I am living the principle of kujichagulia … It teaches Black people to name themselves and their reality and to choose for themselves. I am naming my reality and choosing for myself.

Yet another ritual on this site—described as a “liturgy” and including a “celebrant”—includes prayers to “Holy Wisdom,” “Mother Goddess,” and “Father God,” and ends with an anointing with oil not unlike that which occurs at Confirmation/Chrismation. 

But the mockery of Holy Mother Church doesn’t end there—there’s actually an abortion ritual for “Hispanic Catholic women” which employs multiple sacramentals and centers on prayer to the Virgin Mary.

If there’s any remaining doubt in your mind that what we are doing today in the form of abortion is analogous to what our ancestors did in the form of infant sacrifice, these final two rituals ought to dispel it. First, this ritual from Sarah Kerr, PhD, a self-described “death doula”:

The image we held for Gabriel [the baby] was of a lighthouse, flashing a loving message to him … letting him know … that he was not going to be able to land here. We told him the date for which abortion had been scheduled, and that if he wanted to turn around on his own, he could do so before then. Otherwise, his parents would go ahead with the procedure, bringing as much beauty and love to it as they could… We offered prayers of gratitude to those who have fought so hard to make abortion safe and legal … We carried our prayer bundle outside to the fire pit, and built a hot, beautiful fire … We called out, by name, to the ancestors who would be waiting for [the baby] … We prayed that his voyage be blessed. And we laid the bundle on the fire. Then we turned and … listened while the offering was received by the hungry fire spirits.

And finally, as if that weren’t close enough to ancient pagan nature worship, there’s this, found on Facebook:

Commenting on the modern revulsion to ancient child sacrifice, Dr. Josephine Quinn stated: “We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us—the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t.” 

Actually, doctor, you might want to re-examine that position.

We’re still sacrificing our babies, often in an overtly ritual manner—the only elements that have changed are the methods being used and the gods being worshipped. Today, the gods in whose name these sacrifices are committed are science, money, success, and, primarily, the victim’s own mother, who essentially deifies herself by claiming authority over life and death in the name of achieving her own ends. 

And now, during a plague that might well be a chastisement from God for our sins—including and especially that of abortion—the bloodthirsty gods are crying out for even more slaughter. Just when we most urgently ought to be repenting of such heinous crimes, the forces of darkness are pushing us to kill the innocent on an even grander scale.

Will you sit idly by and watch the escalation of violence from the sidelines as an impotent spectator? Or will you take action to defend the defenseless at this most critical moment, when we are potentially poised to finally win this bloody war? When you stand before the judgment seat of God, how will you answer for your downtime during this period of crisis?

Get involved. Make calls to your local legislators. Write letters and emails to your governor and congresspeople. Express your support to those leaders who are defending life—they need the encouragement—and let those who are promoting abortion know that they will never have your vote until they change. Pray—every day. And if you are able, reach out to the abortion-minded and strive, in charity and with patience, to change minds and hearts. Don’t wait. The right time is right now.

Our hands are bathed in the blood of the innocent. What will you do to make atonement?

The Saint, The Sinner, and the Wrath of God

originally published at OnePeterFive

Sunday was my thirteenth day in coronavirus quarantine. I must confess that, although I have done some liturgical sewing and have spent more time than usual exercising, cooking, and praying, most of this precious downtime has slipped by without anything of note transpiring. 

But Sunday was different.

My church—a small Melkite parish—has been moved from its normal location to my priest’s home, which he has re-arranged for this specific purpose. He has live-streamed Orthros and Divine Liturgy the past two Sundays. I tuned in yesterday from the utilitarian comfort of my sewing studio. 

It was Mary of Egypt’s feast day, and our priest told us this saint’s remarkable story during his homily.  She spent the first seventeen years of her adult life as a prostitute—not motivated by desperation per se, but rather by lust and love for the sport of leading others astray. At the end of that time, she traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to seduce the pilgrims gathered there. She attempted to enter a church in which the True Cross was being venerated, but an invisible force prevented her entry, not once, but three times. Realizing that her impurity was what was blocking her, she retired to a corner of the churchyard and looked up to see an icon of the Virgin Mary above the church. Beset with grief over her sins, she promised Mary that if she would be allowed to venerate the True Cross, she would renounce her life of sin and go wherever the Virgin wished. Again she approached the church, and this time she was allowed entry. 

Being a former prostitute myself, I have always considered St. Mary of Egypt a patroness, although perhaps not one of my principals. But as I listened to my priest relate her story, I realized that I had never been truly contrite about those years spent peddling iniquity—sure, I recognized that what I did was wrong, and I obviously repented, but as for feeling a deep sense of grief over the sin aspect of what I had done, like St. Mary of Egypt felt outside that church? No, that I had never experienced. I had always at least partially justified what I had done by telling myself that, given my extreme circumstances and lack of other options, what I had done was really not all that bad. Not exactly good, but not exactly evil, either. 

This realization perturbed me. So I prayed for the grace of true contrition right there during Liturgy.

Late that night, I felt restless, and I decided to go for a drive. I hadn’t been out of the house in several days except for walks around my own neighborhood, and I just wanted to blast my music and feel the road race by beneath me—I didn’t care where I went. And so I started out without any clear destination in mind.

Almost as if on auto-pilot, I found myself traveling customary paths—roads that were familiar because they were routes to places in which I used to live or work. And before I knew it, I was on my way to the apartment where I had lured so many men into sin.

As I approached the corner on which the building stands, I started to feel a great weight on my chest. Breathing became significantly more difficult. I turned the corner and saw the place itself, and it hit me like a sock on the jaw: “My God, what have I done to You?”

I realized the weight on my chest was the weight of my sins. And I realized that I had made a grotesque mockery of God’s laws, laws given to us out of love and for our protection. But, most painfully of all, I realized that I had deeply wounded the only One who loves me infinitely and unconditionally. He had given me everything, and I had squandered it in filth.

A shower of profound sorrow washed over me. It was more than I could bear. I had to get out of there. So I pressed the gas and raced down the street, although I was gasping for breath and could barely see the road through my tears.

I kept driving—visiting the sites of many past mistakes—shedding years of uncried tears.

*             *             *

Sunday was noteworthy in another way, too: the latest interview with the exiled Archbishop Viganò was published. In it, he discusses the COVID-19 pandemic and how it relates to matters of faith. He speaks of the pandemic as an instrument of divine wrath meted out upon a world saturated with sin, and, more especially, a Church hierarchy which has abandoned its own doctrine, embracing in its stead secularism, “religious relativism,” and even blasphemy. He characterizes God as a Father who “sends us many signs, often very sternly” to repent, this being one of them.

Abp. Viganò calls for the ‘immediate and absolute’ conversion of “[t]he Pope, the Hierarchy, and all Bishops, Priests, and Religious.” He also calls upon our societies to repent of sins “such as recognizing the right to abortion, euthanasia, and sodomy” as well as “corrupt[ing] children and violat[ing] their innocence.” 

“Public sins,” he goes on, “require public confession and public atonement”; otherwise, we “cannot evade God’s punishment.” 

In other words, it is time for the whole world, and especially the Church, to have its St. Mary of Egypt moment. Like her, we are being denied access to our churches. And like her, according to Abp. Viganò, it is because of our impurity.

St. Mary of Egypt spent the last years of her life battling, and ultimately overcoming, her temptations and doing penance for her sins. She was rewarded for her efforts with great spiritual gifts, including the ability to perform miracles. 

Right now, we are all in the equivalent of St. Mary of Egypt’s churchyard—and, in this quarantine environment, we have ample time to reflect upon our sins and how they might have contributed to our present crisis. Will we, like her, be gifted with the grace to repent in time to save our society, our souls, and our Church from ruin? Or will we selfishly cling to the world we have grown complacently accustomed to, which is so repugnantly offensive to Our Lord?

I urge each one of you to pray for the grace of true contrition. I can tell you, it hurts like nothing else on this earth, but don’t you think it’s about time we stopped indulging every pleasure-seeking whim and started doing a little productive suffering? I, for one, intend to start doing penance right now, today. And, during this painfully pregnant pause in our mostly misguided lives, every member of the Church Militant—including and especially the hierarchy, going all the way to the very top—should and must do the same, if we are to escape the horrific fate we so justly deserve.

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