Impressions of a quick shopping trip

After nearly a week of being at home, we needed a few supplies from a local farm shop where they breed pigs and sell their meat.

I had seen scenes of cities in France and Italy without a soul in the street. Did such a world exist? I took my regulation paper in case of being stopped by the Gendarmes together with a pair of latex gloves. I started my car and set off. There were tractors driving around, farmers doing their jobs, and there were a few cars like mine. The main road towards Yvetot was almost deserted, a road that is more familiar to me than the road from Kendal to Ambleside when I was a schoolboy. Yet, this seemed to be another world. I drove through the first village, and it seemed totally deserted – but I knew that there was a family in each house.

A short distance after the village called Autretot, I turned off to go to the farm shop that opens on Fridays and Saturdays. If there are too many people, I said to myself, I’ll just turn round and go back home. There was just one man of about 70, and we kept apart by more than the required distance. Before leaving the car, I put on my gloves and took my credit card out of my wallet. Let’s keep the things in the car clean, I thought. Leave the wallet, keys, mobile phone, everything. My routine would be to return to the car with the goods, take off the gloves and put them into a plastic bag for disposal, wash my hands with alcohol gel and rub down the edges of my credit card. I would then be able to get back into a clean car.

In the shop, the owner and assistant greeted us warmly. 12 slices of ham, the same number of pork sausages, two dozen eggs and some cheese. I slid my card into the reader myself and punched in the PIN. It seemed so strange to be on edge and thinking carefully about my every gesture: Don’t touch my face, not even to scratch an itch. The probability of catching Covid-19 in this shop was certainly very low, but they weren’t taking any chances either, not even with their good customer!

What I have to relate from this experience is a feeling of detachment from reality. What is reality? The collective consciousness has made the world another world. Should I go and have a look at Yvetot and see what it looks like empty? No, because I had no reason to go there and might be sanctioned by the Gerndarmes, but this whole idea of confinement is, more than obedience to the law, solidarity and not believing I have any privilege over others. I resisted the temptation to go down the road to the unknown, and returned home immediately after my errand was run.

There is a feeling of anxiety in the air, fear which in the words of characters of Star Wars leads to the Dark Side. I feel their fear rather than experiencing fear myself. Last night, I saw a video of a scene in an Italian hospital. Patients were gasping their last breaths and the doctors could do no more for them. Alone in the ward was a man of about 50 who was recovering, but still had an oxygen mask and was as yet too weak to sit up on his bed. The commentator said that within a day or two, all the other patients in that ward had died. It is not only the shadow of death over elderly people suffering from various health conditions, but their families and their villages. This virus has put a stop to the joie de vivre and the social life so sorely missed by people of all generations. We are driven apart, and all we can do is use modern technology to communicate and express our love and friendship in other ways. All these thoughts flooded through my mind as I drove back home. I was almost in tears.

I read articles about how this world will not be the same again, something like before and after a war against a visible enemy. Our political leaders talk about being at war, and M. Macron sounded like a cross between Winston Churchill and Général de Gaulle. I hope he was being sincere and felt his nation’s need for a true father! Perhaps what hurts me the most is the attitude of those who claim that all the state wants is to imprison us in a kind of Orwellian dystopia by exaggerating the gravity of this disease – and then go socialising and then go to visit elderly parents and grandparents. All around me, people are straining at the bit to live normal life again. I am grateful to live in a nice house in the country with my wife, books, music, garden, workshop, boat to get ready for the new season, chores and improvements. Others live in a city in a small apartment with young children or rebellious adolescents. Either people will wake up and understand the notion of sacrifice for all, or the tension will become unbearable in the weeks to come.

I easily imagine the possibility of an insurrection or even a civil war. Many have been predicting such for decades. The Communist CGT trade union has calmed down since the pension reform was shelved by Macron. The Gilets Jaunes have created trouble here and there, but the police have been ready for them in the cities. Perhaps the greatest threat is from a large number of young immigrants and uncultured young white French men. Until recently, I was worried about Brexit, but now I am more concerned about the deep fissures in Europe and the present establishment and the brewing discontent. For once I am at one with the American preppers, except that I am already “bugged out” and in the country. No, I have no firearms. This is Europe and not the USA. If civilisation collapses in the cities, people won’t come and rob the homes in the country, but we might be deprived of food and medical supplies.

We stand before the unknown, a new Ungrund from which a new beginning will be possible and necessary. This is how the world must have been in April 1945 when Hitler blew his own brains out and Germany surrendered, leaving thousands of German and Allied families and children without homes or food. Yet, Germany was rebuilt after the end of the Nazi curse and the rest of Europe reconstructed with courage. I have confidence in God’s mercy that this Ungrund that now stares us in the face will be a bringer of grace and consolation. May these days be shortened for the sake of the just…

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Attend Mass by Live Streaming

Those who wish to attend Mass at home by live streaming may do so:

Fraternity of St Peter

St Eugene, Paris, France – via their YouTube channel and Facebook page. Mass every weekday at 7:00 pm local time (6 pm in the UK). Sunday: Mass at 11 am, Vespers at 5:45 pm, Mass again at 7:00 pm.

See my Bishop’s introduction to his church of St Augustine, Painter’s Forstal near Faversham, Kent.

Bishop Damien has had to suspend public Masses in his church during the epidemic. Keep an eye on our Diocesan page on Facebook. Our Diocesan Synod, scheduled for 23rd May 2020, has had to be postponed because of the epidemic.

I must learn how to do live streaming and see if it practical – ie. an internet connection between my chapel and the wi-fi source in the house. Advice would be most welcome.

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Mass sine populo

There is quite a lot of discussion going on in various Facebook groups about what priests can do when the civil authority has forbidden all gatherings of people because of the present epidemic of coronavirus.

Several years ago, I wrote Mass without a congregation to which there are several comments. The Reformation did away with private masses on pretext of superstitious notions of sacramental theology and the purpose of the Eucharist. Orthodox churches cancel the Liturgy if no one turns up on a given day. The priest packs up and goes home. Is this what we are all called to do? Alternatively, is it not good for people unable to go to church to know that Mass is being celebrated for them?

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien – the best goes against the good. Sometimes, observing laws to the letter demolishes the reason the law was there in the first place. In these circumstances, not celebrating Mass when the people are obliged to stay away is simply closing down the Church. I’m sure the atheists are rubbing their hands with glee! The Church has just shot itself in the foot! At the same time, people who attend church will transmit and catch the virus, and there will be no miracle by God to stop it.

My own thought is the following. Were I to refrain from celebrating Mass because there are no faithful, either because they are not allowed to come or simply are non-believers or faithful of another Church, would there be any positive consequence? If I gave up the priesthood, what good would that do? I have often turned these thoughts over in my mind. Perhaps it’s all a load of bunk like the atheists say… But atheism and materialism are no solution, and deny the reality of consciousness.

I cannot bind the conscience of another priest, but I simply carry on in an attitude of availability for any pastoral need I might encounter. There are times when Mass is impossible, because I am away from home and have no access to all the things needed like the altar, chalice, cruets, missal, etc. There is the Office, which can be prayed by anyone, priests and laity alike. Mass and Office go together, and the Office can stand alone when nothing else is possible. These are the high and visible points of exoteric Christianity.

Esoteric Christianity is our inmost spiritual life and something a person alone can experience. It is approached in so many different ways – as a small community or each person alone. The epidemic has broken up the human community, and many people complain about not being allowed to go for walks on the beach or other things that finish up by bringing humans into close contact and risk of infection. It seems to be a dreadful punishment, but it is teaching us to live the solitary life to the best.

Life has made me a solitary long before the epidemic. My married life has settled to a balance that respects my need for times of solitude and impels me to give to the community and resist the temptation of selfishness. My priesthood and marriage have never been compatible, and this was very painful for many years – and I have very much revised my former opinion against priestly celibacy. However, priestly celibacy can only be based on the integration of the person, otherwise things go wrong like the frustrated person beginning to adopt predatory behaviours.

This epidemic has exposed many deep fissures in the Church. It has not been experienced in our part of the world since the Spanish Flu of 1918-20. Many say that the world will never be the same as now, and we march into the unknown. That is possible. Many of those dispensed from the obligation of attending Mass, or who stay away in a gesture of self-preservation and solidarity with those who would die if infected, will not return to the Church. I am sure that this happened in 1920, as attested by the Journal d’un Curé de Campagne by Bernanos. The world sank into Nazism and Fascism, and World War II came within an inch of destroying civilisation. Amazingly, after 1945, human resilience brought Les Trente Glorieuses and the poem by Kipling I quoted in my previous posting.

What harm can a solitary Mass do? We must carry on until we know that a greater good will come from us finding a new and different vocation from God…

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Why are the Churches closed?!!!!!

Fr Jonathan Munn has written a touching reflection on his blog Pestilence and Penitence.

As with our social life, people are indignant about being told to shut themselves in. There are still people in the streets in some places gathering, socialising, kissing and hugging, shaking hands. Some are still saying that the virus is a hoax or “just the flu”.

I have already given my reflections on being very privileged to be living in quite a large house in the country, having a chapel and being a priest. I will certainly be judged in proportion to my privilege! Many live in small apartments or are homeless. Parents have to live with bored children who don’t understand why they’re not allowed to go outside and play in the street with their mates.

Like Fr Jonathan, I often read about opinions of people who bitterly criticise the “lack of faith” of bishops and priests who incline to common regulations about gatherings of people. Last Sunday in Paris, hordes of people were picnicking in public gardens in Paris – “The virus is elsewhere. I’m not going to catch it”. If they do, they will probably recover, but their grandparents they go on to visit will die!

For once, our political authorities (at least here in France, Italy, Austria) etc. are not working for the money of the rich but for the good of the population, the common good. President Macron spoke again yesterday evening as a statesman. It might have been his “De Gaulle moment”, but public health and survival come before economics. Economics can be reconstructed. The lock-down regulations also concern churches.

I am also privileged in being less dependent on social life than many people. For one, I have an Aspergers level of autism, so being with people for its own sake is not my priority in life. That doesn’t means that I don’t care about others or respect them. This is fundamental to Christian morality, charity which is greater than both faith and hope. I live alone much more easily, and at this present time, it is an asset. I also have a certain experience of monastic life through having been a working guest for six months in a French abbey. Priorities are different. With these “other” priorities, I have plenty to do with books, my chapel, the internet, the organ, my boats to get into shape for the new season and the garden. It is another philosophy of life that “neurotypical” people can learn to an extent – how to spend time alone and keep in touch with family and friends by telephone and internet-based communication.

I mentioned a couple of days ago the notion of “giving up religion for Lent”. This does not mean rejecting God or a life of prayer. It means living a spiritual life without the social dimension and the externals of church – and just for a time.

Isolation and retreat from the world are essential. It has always been a part of my life with my training for the priesthood and life in seminary, the periods of silence and study, and social life in recreation times. Silence and solitude (or the time we are not with the wife) are essential for our self-knowledge and consciousness. Also, this is Lent. Many Christians go and spend the time as guests in a monastery. This year, it is at home, treating all external people as potential forms of infection.

Yes, I do think that our real dis-ease is spiritual. We protect ourselves and our loved ones by quarantine against physical disease, but this is also an opportunity for the most profound retreat of our lives.

If we are priests, we can celebrate Mass sine populo and do videos or streaming to enable others to see and hear from a distance. When we are not priests, we can pray the Office and use formulas of prayer to unite ourselves with a priest doing his duty alone in the church. Is this not how things are already outside times of epidemic? People complain that they don’t have enough priests, and then reject a priest who would be willing to serve them because his “ordination pedigree” wasn’t quite “perfect” enough. Congregations with priests are often the most ungrateful and destructive to the man who is doing his best to serve the Communion of the Church. I have often said “Let them live in China, North Korea or Saudi Arabia”. Now they have an epidemic!

From today, the law in France binds us to stay at home except for going to work when distance work is not possible, essential shopping, going to the chemist for medicines or to see the doctor (for problems other than this virus), helping people who most need it or for things like going for exercise or walking the dog without socialising. There are police and gendarmes on the roads, and we have to show an official paper on which we state one of these reasons for being out. This first period of quarantine is for two weeks, and we can expect that the government will need to extend it. On one side, this is a law I am glad to obey, but it is something we had already begun to do for the very purpose of what the State is requiring for those who do not understand.

This thing is going to begin with many people getting bored and looking for ways to game the system. This is France! There will probably be a certain margin of tolerance. People will probably watch a lot of television and play computer games. Perhaps some will develop a taste for reading real books and playing board games like chess or scrabble with the family. As the soul seeks more meaning, a person resorts to prayer and supplication. For me, two weeks in quarantine is nothing, but an eternity for others. I already hear shouting from my next-door neighbour where there are two teenage boys. There is no school or university. Libraries are closed.

Two days ago, it was the third Sunday of Lent, the day when the catechumens in the early Church received their first exorcisms. The Jews of old made little distinction between physical sickness and a state of sin. There is a strong analogy between the powers of darkness, evil spirits and viruses.

The Gospel. Luke xi. 14-28.
At that time, Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

The last state of that man is worse than the first. Possession by a virus is very similar to the spiritual equivalent, and the idea is chilling. Viruses were once thought to be poisonous chemicals, but are generally thought of by scientists as life-forms – except that they are in a grey area between life and inanimate matter. They cannot reproduce on their own, and have to live as parasites in living cells of the host. What they do to the host’s cells is what causes the illness. The Latin word virus means poison. A chemical poison like cyanide works by depriving red blood cells of the capacity to carry oxygen. The host dies from asphyxiation. We see similarities between chemicals and viruses at the frontier between life and chemistry, but the virus is essentially made of DNA (RNA) enclosed in a protein container. The chemical structure is highly complex like simple living organisms. They have no life of their own but depend on the living cell for its life.

What defines life? Is it the ability to be autonomous and to reproduce, but with a lifespan limited in time. Viruses can be inactive for thousands or millions or years and be in a perfect condition for taking life from any living cells they find. They can be killed (destroyed) by chemicals or extremes of heat. Another way to think of this is looking at a part of our bodies, for example fingers or brain neurons. There needs to be a degree of complexity between these components for life and consciousness to be defined. Viruses are extremely diverse in their form and the kind of effect they have on living organisms. There are theories that some viruses might be survivals of decomposed cells that seek new life, a kind of “zombie” existence. The most successful virus is one that does not kill its host or cause critical illness, but one that leaves the host apparently healthy whilst living the life of its host. The science of viruses is incredibly complex even for the boffins in their laboratories.

My point about the virus is that it is for the physical body (a manifestation of consciousness) what the evil spirit is for the soul. The evil spirit has no life of its own, but seeks life from its host, and avoids what would not be in its own self-interest. In my own thought, I make no real distinction between consciousness and matter, the supernatural and nature. There is a real parallel as when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Imagine that being the “attitude” of the virus that takes advantage of the very efforts made by a person to be clean and hygienic, yet creates the very favourable conditions for the viruses to thrive.

Sometimes, human (and non-human) souls become possessed through no fault of their own (eg. dabbling in the occult). Some descriptions made by exorcists find a certain likeness between these parasitic evil spirits and a biological agent like a virus. For this reason, we cannot rely purely on medical means to resist this virus (since our immune systems are useless against it). We have also to treat it as an evil spirit, the Tempter, the one who tries to entice us into materialism and lust for power and money. Yes, we wash our hands, but we also wash our hands at the Offertory of Mass to be as worthy as possible for our contact with the Mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Our war is not one of flesh and blood, even though the virus is something that can be seen by electron microscope, but against that almost lifeless and parasitic consciousness that has blighted humanity and the world from the very beginning.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Eph. vi. 12

And this kind of spirit can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. Jesus spent forty days in the desert all alone, which gave him the spiritual strength to affront the enemy. Beside that, it matters little whether those who lust for social contact can be physically present at Mass.

We are living at the beginning of a dark night of the soul, with some hope that what will come out of it will be Berdyaev’s New Middle Age, that world beyond for which we yearn. A part of this dark Ungrund will be our time of solitude and retreat. In our own homes, we can pray for and offer hope to those who are sick or who are worried about whether they have caught the virus before battening down the hatch.

It is our rejection of God that means we must take the consequences of our actions whereby this virus lives in the disorder we created for it.

This is a profound thought, whether the virus was caused by man’s treatment of this planet and the environment, or via some evil scheme gone-wrong to inflict biological warfare on the “enemies of the people”. There are theories – maybe with some element of truth or completely wrong. I do not believe this to be the end of the world. We will survive this plague as humanity has survived others even more murderous like Ebola or the Bubonic Plague (Black Death). May the future world be less about money, consumption and growth than about humanity, love and the harmony of all creation under God. Maybe the New Spring will come as our incessant gales and rain give place to sunshine, birdsong and colourful flowers…

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Teach us Delight in Simple Things

We in France have just had a stricter order to stay at home for fifteen days, which is something we are doing anyway apart from essential errands like buying something from the chemist’s shop. If we are wise, we have already got our food supplies in – and various things needed for personal hygiene.

Quarantine is the ultimate weapon to win the war against this virus. Man is a social animal, but some of us are fortunately a little more introverted and have no need of parties or gatherings when we know about the dangers. Any of us can catch the disease and none of us has a guarantee that we won’t become critically ill and die. I just have a feeling that God wants me to live longer to fulfil my vocation which is far from complete, and help to reconstruct the future. I am sure that I am not alone…

Some of us might need to prepare ourselves for staying home and changing our routine of life and paradigm. I appreciate that it will be much harder for families with children, especially if they live in a small apartment and have no garden. How do you explain to children that they must stop playing with their friends for several weeks? I am far from having all the answers.

It will be easier for me, especially with these mighty weapons of war:

Yes, books – reading and study. Lent calls us to a more reflective and prayerful life to prepare for our Transitus Domini from slavery to true freedom and joy. Here in this house, I have books, music (a little pipe organ) and the internet. I also have the chapel and my duty of the Office and the Mass. Through the Mass, we remain together and united, even if you are not present with me before the altar. We also have a garden to look after and two dogs and two cats. The spring weather is taking over from the gales and rain we have endured this winter. How fortunate we are to have a new way of life to call us to values other than money and consumption, or yet trying to please other people.

This epidemic promises us hardship and adversity, even if we avoid catching the disease. I work to earn a living like everyone else and have to pay bills, together with my wife who also works. Only, she has to get used to working at home and having less social life. I don’t know if the general paradigm will change, but we have to change and live according to simpler values.

I leave you with the beautiful Children’s Song by Rudyard Kipling:

Land of our Birth, we pledge to thee
Our love and toil in the years to be;
When we are grown and take our place
As men and women with our race.

Father in Heaven who lovest all,
Oh, help Thy children when they call;
That they may build from age to age
An undefiled heritage.

Teach us to bear the yoke in youth,
With steadfastness and careful truth;
That, in our time, Thy Grace may give
The Truth whereby the Nations live.

Teach us to rule ourselves alway,
Controlled and cleanly night and day;
That we may bring, if need arise,
No maimed or worthless sacrifice.

Teach us to look in all our ends
On Thee for judge, and not our friends;
That we, with Thee, may walk uncowed
By fear or favour of the crowd.

Teach us the Strength that cannot seek,
By deed or thought, to hurt the weak;
That, under Thee, we may possess
Man’s strength to comfort man’s distress.

Teach us Delight in simple things,
And Mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And Love to all men ‘neath the sun!

Land of our Birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
Oh, Motherland, we pledge to thee
Head, heart and hand through the years to be!

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One or Two Ideas…

As I celebrated Mass this morning, as always sine populo, I was aware of a great feeling of gratitude to be at Mass and receiving the Sacrament.

Here in France, Italy and elsewhere, there can be no public Mass. We are spending as much time as possible at home in quarantine. The word comes from the forty days, not of Lent, but the time of the bubonic plague, thirty-seven days from infection to death. According to most scientific opinions, the time of SARS-CoV-2 which is the cause of COVID-19 is about two weeks at the outside, usually less than that. How coincidental that this quarantine coincides with Quadragesima, the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the desert before being tempted by the Devil!

To try to offer comfort to those who are having literally to give up religion for Lent, the most ironic asceticism, I can suggest that people take up the Divine Office from the Prayer Book or one of the traditional breviaries in Latin or English. You don’t need to be in church for that, simply at home at your little prayer corner or shrine.

There is then the notion of spiritual communion, like making one’s confession to God in the absence of a priest. This is a notion that is more common in Roman Catholicism than our Anglican tradition. Many things prevent us from receiving the Sacraments, especially being shut-in at home because of age or sickness or being in some canonical irregularity and still attending Mass without receiving Communion. Whatever, we can all be united with God through prayer. We express our desire to receive God even when we cannot receive the Sacraments. Priests too can fall ill and be prevented from celebrating Mass.

There is no single prescribed form. I can suggest that lay people can recite Mattins and Evensong (Lauds, Vespers and Compline) and use a form of prayer for Spiritual Communion as they prefer.

Here is a couple of examples of such a prayer for being at Mass without being able to receive Communion or being unable to be at Mass for any reason like the present epidemic. Lift up your thoughts with something like the following.

My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though Thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee. Amen.

At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.

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In Time of Epidemic

The announcement is made and France goes into Stage 3 of the anti-epidemic plan as of this night. Only food shops, pharmacies, banks, tobacconists and petrol stations can stay open. All other public places are shut. We are asked to stay at home except for reasons of work (I work from home). My wife will go to Rouen on Monday by car (taken there by one of the lawyers of the practice and brought back by me in the evening) to do some things that have to be done in the office, and will make pdf files from the various documents of the cases she has to deal with to work on at home for the rest of the week. She will not travel by train or bus. For some two weeks (or more), we will be holed up at home.

We got the essential shopping done about two weeks ago, supermarket and chemist’s shop, including pasta and toilet paper when no one else even thought of it. For the toilet, we can economise on paper by using one small piece and then use the shower as a bidet, washing with soap and hot water. For some time, we have avoided the bise (kiss on each cheek) and shaking hands. Hand washing is essential each time we go out, go into a public place, touch anything like a stainless steel surface. We have little bottles of hand sanitiser gel in our pockets and avoid touching the car before doing the hand wash. Sophie and I started getting concerned long before people stopped laughing it off as a gripette (little flu) invented by someone perverse for the purpose of some wicked conspiracy.

Our civil authorities have taken time to come to such serious decisions. President Macron here in France spent all last Thursday with doctors and scientists to make the best decision. He spoke as a true statesman and exhorted us to a sense of altruism and responsibility. I don’t know how long this is going to last. The worst and most worrying time will be the next two weeks.

I am used to staying home most of the time. We are groaning out of a long, mild and wet winter and I haven’t sailed since last August. So far, my translating work seems to be holding, as my agents are working from home and it all works via e-mail and internet. I have plenty of reading to do, and I have lots of practical things to do as the weather begins to improve next week (hopefully). The only danger to life is other people, something that goes against our every human social instinct.

There is no vaccine for this disease and none of us has any natural immunity. If I catch it, I may be lucky and be within the 80% who recover, otherwise my way out of this world might be little different from that of Novalis who died of consumption in 1801. I can only trust in God and his mercy in this Lent of 2020. My wife Sophie has weak lungs, having had a mild bout of pneumonia a few years ago and is mildly asthmatic. We are both ex-smokers, but it is said that lungs repair themselves very quickly once a person stops smoking, which I did in 2006. We all have to pray for each other and behave in such a way as to protect both ourselves and others from ourselves.

These measures are for our good. I am very thankful to be in France where our freedom and human sense of duty are respected. We have an excellent medical system, but one that cannot bear being overloaded. France should be an example for America and the UK. I fear that in England, little will be done to enable people to work from home, pay the bills and mortgage and get the medical help they need. Perhaps the cold realism of science will prevail.

Please follow the usual advice of social distancing, keeping distances from other people, getting used to refraining from gestures of courtesy, and above all washing your hands with 70° alcohol, soap and water. There are no miracle cures. Do not believe anyone on Facebook or anywhere else who pretends to have a miracle cure!

After all these practical considerations, we can only pray to be spared from this scourge, which can kill young healthy people as well as the elderly with health problems. Some will say it is a punishment from a vengeful God. That is not something I believe. Evil and adversity are a mystery that few can even begin to penetrate. Some evil is wreaked by human freedom and other calamities come from nature and are suffered by mankind. The idea sometimes put out about Covid-19 is that it was manufactured in a laboratory in Wahun, China, and somehow “escaped”. I am sceptical and have no way of knowing one way or the other. Even the most perverse countries have refrained from biological warfare because it can come back against them instead of destroying their enemy. It is not productive to think along these lines. The virus exists, and we might catch it!

We pray for God’s help and healing of our stricken humanity. I end this posting with the Sarum proper of St Sebastian in Time of Plague

Missa de sancto Sebastiano, tempore pestis

Egregie martyr Sebastiane, princeps et propagator sanctissimorum præceptorum, ecce nomen tuum in libro vitæ cœlestis ascriptum est: et memoriale tuum non derelinquetur in sæcula. Ps. Benedicam Dominúm in omni tempore. Gloria Patri. Egregie martyr.

Omnipotens sempitérne Deus, qui meritis beati Sebastiani martyris tui gloriosissimi, quandam generalem pestem epidemiæ hominibus pestiferam revocásti; præsta supplicibus tuis, ut qui pro simili peste revocanda ad ipsum sub tui confidentia confugerint, ipsius meritis et precibus ab ipsa peste epidemiæ et ab omni tribulatione liberentur. Per Dominum.

Lectio libri Sapientiæ.Ecclus 14:20, 15:3–6
Beatus vir qui in sapientia morabitur, et qui in justitia meditabitur, et in sensu cogitabit circumspectionem Dei. Cibabit illum pane vitæ et intellectus; et aqua sapientiæ salutaris potabit illum. Et firmabitur in illo, et non flectetur: et continebit illum et non confundetur; et exaltabit illum apud proximos suos. Et nomine æterno hereditabit illum Dominus Deus noster.

O sancte Sebastiane, Christi athleta gloriosissime, qui pro Christo reliquisti terrene militiæ principatum et, suscepisti magnum supplicium intercede pro nobis ad Dominum.
℣. O sancte Sebastiane, Christi martyr egregie, cujus meritis tota Lombardia fuit liberata a pestis mortifera, libera nos ab ipsa et a maligno hoste.
Alleluya, ℣. O sancte Sebastiane, nos trementes ac flentes imploramus tuum clemens auxilium ut possimus obtinere per te pestis mortiferæ apud Christum remedium.

In tempore Paschali, Alleluya. ℣. O quam gloriosum est templum tuum, beate Sebastiane, in quo divina est promissio et peccatorum remissio, splendor et lux perpetua et sine fine lætitia.

Omnes una decantemus,
et martyris personemus
laudem Sebastiani;
hic a Deo est electus,
per quem morbus est ejectus
languoris pestiferi.
Nam se Christo totum vovit,
qui vult nos hunc venerari;
Christus eum nunc promovit
in patria cœlesti.
Cunctis hic subvenit mœstis,
statim est sedata pestis,
sui causa meriti;
ipsum si nunc deprecemur,
nomen quoque veneremur
martyris sanctissimi,
Morbus iste non nocebit,
sed mortiferum delebit
populum qui tenuit;
nos pro nostris tantis malis
jam absorbet pestis talis,
quam tota gens gemuit,
Sancte martyr Sebastiane,
salva nos a peste epidemiæ;
nostra gravia ob peccata,
terra ista desolata
non sit, pie quæsumus;
sed nos considera,
et in nobis cessa,
pestem jam te petimus.
Ista per te gens sit tuta,
et ne noceat acuta
febris hæc in Anglia;
ex quo nostra spes est tota,
in te martyr, nunc remota
sit pestis mortifera,
O sancte Sebastiane,
nostræ gentis Anglicanæ
conservator et tutor sis;
et Dominum deprecare,
ut a nobis revocari
valeat vesana pestis.
Ex tua sancta prece
ne sit morbus nobis nece,
sed recedat ab hac domo;
amen, dicat omnis homo.

Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Johannem.12:24–26
In illo tempore: Dixit Jesus discipulis suis; Amen, amen, dico vobis, nisi granum frumenti cadens in terram mortuum fuerit, ipsum solum manet. Si autem mortuum fuerit, multum fructum affert. Qui amat animam suam, perdet eam: et qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam æternam custodit eam. Si quis mihi ministrat, me sequatur: et ubi sum ego, illic et minister meus erit. Si quis mihi ministraverit, honorificabit eum Pater meus, qui est in cœlis.

Martyr egregie, decus militiæ, athleta fidei, ora Natum Dei, ut avertat a nobis indignationem suam; martyr suffragia effunde pia, ut epidemia nec sit noxia in hac patria nec in alia, per subsidia posce tua; nos tibi talia damus praeconia, hic prece præmia da nobis pia, miles eia, alleluya.

Subveniat nobis, Domine, tua misericordiam intercedente beato Sebastiano martyre tuo; ut ab imminentibus peccatorum nostrorum periculis, te mereamur protegente salvari, et suis precibus a peste epidemiæ, et ab omni tribulatione liberari. Per.

Beatus es, et bene tibi erit, egregie martyr Sebastiane: quia cum sanctis gaudebis et cum angelis exsultabis in æternum.

Da, quæsumus, Domine, populo tuo salutem mentis et corporis; ut, interventu beati Sebastiani martyris tui, bonis operibus inhærendo tuo semper munere et suorum meritorum interventione, a peste epidemiæ et ab omni tribulatione mereamur, tua protectione defendi. Per Dominum.

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