Locked Down for Thanksgiving? What should Catholics do?
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With COVID cases on the rise and ICUs being overwhelmed, lockdowns are returning. And in the USA, these loathed restrictions are coming back just as the holiday season begins. Thanksgiving celebrations are likely to be much smaller, yet some are planning to gather in defiance of public orders they feel are inappropriate. As Catholics, how should we respond? Here is my opinion.
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How should we respond in the face of COVID lockdowns as Catholics?
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - I get it. COVID is fake, the restrictions are an attempt to take away our rights, and our religious freedom is being unconstitutionally restricted. Churches are closed, but the casinos are open, and the Governor of California just violated his own mandate to wine and dine with a dozen others because the rules don't apply to him. I hear these arguments, and I understand why many will gather on Thanksgiving in spite of new lockdown measures.
As a Catholic, and as an American, I hate these restrictions. They've kept me from Mass, and kept me from enjoying all kinds of activities with my family and others. They've made it harder to work and to play, and above all, they've made it much harder to worship. Confession by appointment only, Mass restricted to outdoor attendance, and the Sacrament reserved for the critically ill. And on top of this, I am once again banned from gathering with loved ones.
Believe me, I get it. And it's made worse by the hypocrisy of our leaders who get their hair done, breathe freely without a mask, and enjoy fancy dinners in violation of their own restrictions.
We are certainly justified in repudiating these measures and doing as we please. But is this how we should be as Catholics?
We are called to respect authority under the Church's teaching of the Fourth Commandment. "Honour your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12)
Also, we read in the Catechism: 2238 Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts: 43 "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution. . . . Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God." 44 Their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community. (CCC 2238)
Taken together, I understand these to mean that we are to submit to these rules, even if we do not like them, find them offensive, or even unjust. But why?
For one, COVID is real. The virus does not move on its own, it moves when people move it. We are the reason the outbreak continues. We also know masks can slow that spread, and while they do not prevent spread altogether, they can diminish the viral loads suffered by those who are infected. A lower viral load means a victims inhales less of the virus than normal, and their immune system has a better chance of fighting it off.
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Note, we can also spread the illness even when we show no symptoms. It has resulted in the deaths of a quarter million people, mostly the elderly and those with comorbidities. But not all comorbidities are known to their victims, so it is dangerous to assume a person is healthy because they appear so, when they could simply be undiagnosed. For the benefit of others, it makes sense to stay put. It also makes sense to wear a mask in the presence of others, even if we don't like doing so.
The science behind this has been affirmed by multiple studies, both before and after the COVID outbreak. We should listen to these experts, even if we dislike what they have to say. There's a reason why they're experts and we are not. It should be noted that media personalities are not experts either, no matter how cleverly they can spin a story or turn a phrase. We must pay attention to the right people.
I understand many of you won't accept this argument, so there are other reasons I propose.
We are called to submit to authorities. This may be hard to do when you feel your rights are being infringed upon. I get it. But if we look back to the first Christians, we note many of them complied with the authorities, even when it meant they would be doomed to a terrible fate. Rather than resist, they went singing to their deaths.
Even Jesus, who was Himself wholly innocent, submitted to the authorities and forbade resistance to them.
What's the logic in this?
By resisting, we lend credibility to the misdeeds of our authorities. They can say, "See? We needed to do this. In fact, we need to crack down harder." Resistance breeds further aggression, which in turn causes a cycle from which all parties may be irreparably damaged. But nonresistance and compliance breeds sympathy, which can be far more powerful than hard power.
To be clear, power can be divided into two categories, hard and soft. Hard power is forceful coercion, the kind that flows from the law or arms and is enforced by direct violence or the threat of violence. Soft power is persuasive power, which is difficult to see and impossible to contain, yet shapes much of society. Soft power is the greater of the two. It is the secret to how Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and every other civilization that's tried to resist the Gospel. It also works better on the individual.
We are called to this higher way of being, to face adversity as Christians and to offer our sacrifices to the Lord without complaint.
Certainly, there is a case for civil disobedience, but as long as these restrictions are temporary, global, and limited to verifiably serious circumstances, this is not the time and place for such heroics. If that changes, then this calculus changes, and we may have good cause to reconsider the question. But this should not be construed as Christian persecution when Christians are not explicitly being targeted. Instead, let us consider the very real sacrifices endured by Christians who are genuinely persecuted in other parts of the world.
Of course I am not suggesting we accept every evil dished out by those in authority, but this is not such an existential threat as to warrant resistance that could in fact endanger our family, friends, and neighbors.
So this holiday, while we may be arguably, unjustifiably restricted, we should bear this gracefully, singing as we go. We can certainly call and visit using Zoom and other applications, and we can send gifts by mail and pray for better times.
Let us bear this trial with patience, praying to God for the grace we need and looking to Christ as our example. The Church has survived pandemics and quarantines before across history. It will survive this one, and be stronger for it.
(Editor's note: the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Online.)
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony
- Padre Nuestro - Our Father (Lord's Prayer)
- A Guide for Confession
- The Apostles' Creed
- Act of Contrition
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