(A Lack of) VIRTUS
When a man chooses to become a father, a doctor, a soldier, or a priest, he commits himself to be on the front lines of any catastrophe that may befall those for whom he has care. Being on the front lines implies both an offensive and defensive posture. Chesterton said it well, “the true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Aquinas situates his treatment of just war under the rubric of a larger discussion on the virtue of charity and its requirements. Charity extends to the protection of those whom we have care and responsibility, but also extends to the punishment of the guilty.
A virus qua virus holds no guilt (because it is not a rational actor)and it cannot therefore be punished. It may perhaps be possible that fallen angels can be responsible for and spread such physical maladies; in which case the appellation of war is most appropriate. Common parlance has called this crisis a war and this author will not dispute it. Indeed, those in government have not only adopted the analogy of war to combatting this virus, they have also extended it. The Defense Production Act, passed in 1950, allows the President to, in essence, commandeer private industry during times of war; though since 1950, it has been invoked in times of domestic emergencies as well. The loudest voices for invoking these powers in the last weeks have been Italians Nancy Pelosi and Andrew Cuomo. Perhaps out of a love for their heritage and seeing the ravages of the virus on their families’ native Italy? More likely, because these statists see the government as the solution to everything. Predictably, the chorus on the Left has also invoked this “emergency legislation” as the solution; ironically, they are advocating for these extraordinary, semi-dictatorial powers, to be given to the man that a mere 45 days earlier they saw as being guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that render him unfit for office. Human folly is never lacking in times of crisis and hysteria, and cooler heads can still laugh.
As this health crisis may be considered a “war” and targeted federal aid given to states for specific institutions and persons to combat this crisis is to be praised, the reflexive appeal by the media and our other cultural commissars to the federal government to solve this and all problems can and should be questioned. One of the more significant reasons is that it furthers the notion that the federal government is the answer to all things. It takes responsibility away from people who are closest to the action; and it lulls citizens evermore into that torpor that cedes one’s liberty and priorities to one’s supposed betters whom we are told—as we are softly rocked to sleep—are in Washington. COVID-19 is a blessing insofar as it shows us how deep a sleep we are in. There is no question that government has a role and in our system of dual sovereignties, federal and state governments both have a role. But lately, instead of common sense, of knowing the true hierarchy which commands our loyalties, of taking particular responsibility for one’s actions and for one’s family, many look to the government to tell them what to do and hang on its every word.
As a fascinating case study, the Catholic bishops of the United States—with a few exceptions—have rolled over and played dead during this time. Instead of contributing to an intelligent public policy or acting as a significant community partner, many dioceses have shuttered their churches and have not even allowed the faithful to come for a visit to the God in the tabernacle. Now admittedly, the situation varies in different states and one should not paint with too broad a brush. This is not a one-size-fits-all issue—and that is exactly the point! The criticism here is for bishops in those states with very restrictive government mandates (and the uncritical episcopal copycats in other areas). In such situations, there have been few—if any—public protests from Catholic bishops; instead there seems to be unquestioned compliance. To take one example, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (like many governors) by executive order ordered all “non-essential services” to close down for a particular period of time during this crisis, this apparently includes and mandates the shuttering of churches. However—lest anyone worry—”licensed cannabis cultivation centers” are considered essential services. (Frito-Lay is safe.) So what has the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago done? Like a good Germa…I mean…citizen, he has complied. Was there a private or public questioning of the Governor? Is not the Catholic priest someone who should be on the front lines of any national emergency? Why is the cashier at Walgreens more essential than a priest?
Now, like many bishops, I have no doubt that the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago truly believes that he is doing what is best. I do not envy his position of having to make judgements on these things. However, underlying his approach of not even taking to the Chicago Tribune to make a public discussion of this (if discussion with the governor and mayor failed) is surrender to the secularist-materialist position that the summum malum is bodily death. While we know that the government believes this (except for the unborn) and has imposed a jurisprudential and legislative preference for materialism and de facto atheism, it is apparent that many of the clergy believe the same thing. If this is not the case, he’s doing a poor job of positioning the Church to be the unique player that she should be. He and other bishops like him are ceding moral authority to politicians. Of course, such bishops will claim that they are making a prudential judgement in support of the common good. Indeed, common sense might even support the suspension of public Masses for a time. But how could the common good require a closing of the doors of churches and forbidding priests from providing the sacraments? Unhappily, we are a long way from the Borromeos, Kostkas, Gonzagas—fearless men—who had a healthy disregard of self in order to treat the bodies and souls of plague victims. Why? Because, it was more important to ensure the provision of supernatural medicines for even more dangerous maladies than COVID-19. I know that there are many priests out there who want to be the Borromeos, Kostkas, and Gonzagas; for those intrepid souls, we pray that our prelates see the value of sending them out to the front lines.
As it is a timeless dictum that grace builds on nature, one of the things that is also apparent is the lack of virtus. A confusion has reigned in a significant part of the episcopate and presbyterate as to what it means to be a man over the last 50 years. To anyone who would dispute that point, one can point to even the most fundamental of doctrines downplayed or even dismissed, lest someone be offended. The Catholic Kennedy-like grasping for societal acceptance has transformed during these generations. The Psalmist’s counsel to “viriliter age!” (“Man up!”) (cf. Psalm 27) has been replaced by a subservience to the cruel mistress of the state. We have two generations of bishops who puff out their chests with great conviction and courage when it comes to fighting racism, the supposed injustice of our immigration policies, and for things like the role of women—all safe government and establishment-approved causes. But when a soul is in need, the generals have left the field. It seems that not even the remnants of a field hospital of a once-great Army remain.
This article, (A Lack of) VIRTUS is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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