This Lenten meditation isn’t exactly a meditation, but a reflection. Clearly we are in the midst of a time of discord and uncertainty in the world. (That almost makes it sound like there are times of certainty, though I’m not sure I’ve encountered any as such.) But with this pandemic taking up everyone’s full attention, I think it is time we reflect upon the correct response of the Catholics of the world to these trying times.

First off, no one can claim that this is the first such epidemic to besiege the world. We have had plagues and pestilences before, and we probably will again. But we should examine how the Church has historically chosen to respond to these times, and if our current response is sufficient.

From early Christian eras, and right through into the mid 1900s, Christians firmly believed that plagues were a just chastisement from God for the sins and sacrileges of men. The solution, through history, was public penance, self mortifications, litany upon litany, plea upon plea for forgiveness. It began with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, an entreaty with God for mercy, and an outward sign of repentance and resolve against committing further evils. In essence, a broad and public repentance, confession, and entreaty for absolution. And when God was satisfied with the repentance of his people, he softened his wrath.

A prime example is the Roman plague of 590, wherein Pope Saint Gregory the Great led all the Roman citizens in seven ranks around the city with ashes on their heads, pleading with God for an end to his vengeance.Jacopo Zucchi, The Procession of St. Gregory, 1573-75

Pope Gregory did not tell the faithful there would be no more mass available. He did not send people into their homes, telling them to wait and not worry. He did not hide himself and his priests away from the people and out of harm’s way. He called every man, woman, and child out of their homes and into the city to publicly repent and plead for God’s mercy. And yes, 80 more people fell dead in that hour that they marched through the city. But armed with true repentance and carrying the image of the Blessed Mother, they eventually received an answer to their prayers.

It was then that the Regina Caeli was born, when a host of heavenly angels chanted it from the sky, and the Archangel Michael was seen atop a castle, wiping his bloody sword and signaling the end of Rome’s chastisement by God.

My friends, may I entreat you to take this anecdote to heart? This is a lesson we cannot allow ourselves to forget, even if the rest of the world has already forgotten it. Even if our leaders are not stepping forth to lead us in procession and in atonement for our wrongdoings, even if our bishops tell us not to worry and that this is not a chastisement, even if our society tells us to rely upon the miracles of science, we must not forget.

We know that we have sinned, our whole world has sinned, and our whole world is turning a blind eye to the truth and existence of God, let alone the justice of his wrath and indignation at an increasingly pagan society. But we know. We can go to the Blessed Sacrament (physically or spiritually, however we are able), and to the Mediatrix of all Graces, and we can bow our heads so deeply and repent so sorrowfully that God will not ignore our cries. This is a plague, and it is a chastisement. And we, God’s faithful, must repent.


NB: the image of our Blessed Mother (depicted with this post) is ascribed to St. Luke the Apostle and is commonly referred to as Salus Populi Romani.

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