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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Plague Cometh — We are Waiting Covid-19!

It’s Lent! There are mass graves in Iran. Grocery store shelves are empty of toilet paper. Catholics ask, “Where have they taken my Lord?”

by Susan Fox 

(Editor’s Note: This was written on March 18, 2020 as the Coronavirus was just taking hold in the U.S. and Austria. It’s an ironic look at our unplanned Lenten sacrifices. However, it is not intended to treat the matter lightly. The Coronavirus has caused an enormous amount of suffering and I’ve been praying for its victims and their families daily. God bless you.)

Students at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria pray the Rosary at 9 p.m. March 19, 2020 for victims of the Coronavirus
Trumau, Austria -- On March 17, I waited in the cold for the doors of the Apoteke to open. That’s an Austrian pharmacy. Unlike a U.S. drug store, one can mostly just buy prescription drugs.

There were three of us — all carefully spaced one meter apart -- and a sign in German just inside the sliding glass window that said “Stop! Only two customers at a time.” At least I think that’s what it said. There was the word, “Stop,” the number 2 and the word, “Kunden.” 

While we waited, Austrian men were hanging out of their apartment balconies — apparently watching us (two old Austrian men and one old American lady) stand in line. 

Yes, there is nothing to do in Austria where every Church has stopped offering Mass and every store is closed except for grocery and pharmacies. So hang out your balcony and watch people line up. Very amusing. They weren’t even smoking. 

Medical care for the sick has almost ceased. I know. I tried to get a CT scan of my kidneys Monday morning (March 16) and when we got to the hospital we were stopped by hired security, who forced us to park in the outside community and then get in a long line to be checked for the coronavirus. It was cold. I gave up after the line didn’t move for 25 minutes. I feared my husband would get sick. 

The only way to get medical care — other than seeing your primary doctor — is to arrive in an ambulance. But not if you are suspected of having the coronavirus. Then you are supposed to stay home.  As the nurse told me on the phone, "Hospitals are dangerous places now." 

At my doctor’s office, there was the same procedure — line up one meter a part. Don’t come in unless you call first. The doctor gave me a referral for a CT scan, told me to call X-ray and make an appointment. I did. There in the nurse’s broken English and my fractured German I managed to find out that there were no X-rays for at least 3 weeks. It’s Lent, and I must fast from CT Scans until Easter? 

Empty Toilet Paper Shelves in Florida. The
curse is worldwide
Where is the toilet paper? Friends in Florida and California found the toilet paper shelves empty as did most of the students at my school here in Trumau, Austria.

At my university, which is closed, we are fasting from each other. There are a lot of people still on campus, but many are lonely because we can’t socialise. Thank God classes are now back via Google hangouts online.

The problem is that we are 277 miles from the Italian border where the coronavirus (Cov-19) has overwhelmed the health care system. Italy has the highest death rate in the world with 63,297 confirmed cases and 6,077 deaths. But stayed tuned, those numbers change daily.

In Austria, not so much yet. Only 28 fatalities and 4,876 confirmed cases, but those numbers go up daily. Yet the country is bracing for the plague. Like parts of the U.S., the country is empty of cars, and most stores are closed. We are not allowed to go to the grocery store except once a week. They have special times when the more vulnerable elderly can enter the grocery store in the morning, and everyone else must stay out. 

But worse than that, the country’s 5.1 million Catholics cannot attend Mass. That’s a suffering for weekly and daily Mass goers, but not for the majority of the indifferent population, who only attend Mass on Christmas or Easter. 

In 2001, Catholics represented 73.6 percent of the population in Austria, but as of 2018 the number had dropped to 56.9 percent. Immigration and indifference accounts for the change. In 2016 only 6.8 percent of Catholics in Austria attended Mass. It’s the same story for most of Europe.

What must they be feeling now they can’t attend Mass? I remember Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night celebrated on a Saturday night a couple of years ago.  Krampus is a Christmas beast — half goat, half demon — who comes traditionally on Dec. 5th in Austria and Germany to beat all the children into being good. His chocolate figurine competes with St. Nicholas’ chocolate in the grocery stores here in December. 

My husband and I struggled to get to Saturday night Mass on that Krampus night in the freezing cold, but the road was blocked by 250 revellers and a
St. Nicholas and Krampus, the Christmas beast, duel it
out in December in Austria
Krampus demon swinging his torch of fire. Later our priest warned us real satanists had hijacked the children’s holiday. The satanists wore the friendly beast costume at these functions. 

When we got to Mass there were  only 15 people in attendance. That’s normal for this small town in Austria on a very cold night. The score that night was 250 for the devil, and 15 for Christ. 

Now Christ is mostly absent. Will anyone notice? History repeats itself. In 587 B.C., Solomon's Temple was destroyed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II and his armies. It was rebuilt in 516 B.C., but the glorious presence of God (the Shekhinah), which filled the first temple, never returned. The Jews went on for centuries worshiping in the Temple seemingly unaware something was missing. 

The desire for God is the highest form of prayer. Such is a two-edged sword for those who go to Mass daily or weekly and are now forced to fast from the Holy Eucharist during Lent. 

God has put some mystics onto that fast — even to fast from his Presence. I tried it once involuntarily for five seconds and my first inclination was to find a window and jump to my death. Luckily I was sitting in a very low place — on a toilet in a basement. No windows.

I remember watching the movie “Teresa de Jesus” about the life of the 16th century Spanish noblewoman who became a  great mystic and a saint. In one scene, she went to communion in a state of grace, and her spiritual director, a priest, refused to give it to her. You should have seen the way the movie depicted her face! Yet such a fast was given for her spiritual growth. 

That’s not what the 12th century canon law collection Decretum Gratiani said referring to ex-communication: “Beloved, a Christian who is excluded from communion by the priests has been consigned to the devil.”

“Why?” writes Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book, Behold the Pierced One, “Because outside the Church there is the devil, whereas within the Church there is Christ.” 

But it sometimes happens that a Catholic person who is excommunicated from the Eucharist “progresses further along the path of patience and humility than if he were able to receive communion,”  the Cardinal wrote. Back to 2020. Essentially, many worldwide have been deprived of the Eucharist because of the virus. 

When St. Augustine knew that death approached he went on a voluntary  penance and excommunicated himself from the Eucharist, Ratzinger said, “He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those hunger and thirst for righteousness.” He literally manifested his solidarity with public sinners who seek pardon through the renunciation of communion. It’s similar to what happens when a Catholic remarries after a divorce and without an annulment. They can’t go to Communion.  If this is met with indifference, that is not good, but it if causes pain, it can be salvific. 

Such an approach seems counterintuitive for a daily-Mass-going Catholic in the state of grace. St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography said she was tempted by false humility to abandon her friendship with Christ.

Seeing her sins, Teresa decided to stop praying until she had achieved virtue. She went on this way for more than a year, and the result, she says, was she almost lost her soul. "I do not believe I have ever passed through so grave a peril as when the devil put this idea into my head under the guise of humility," she wrote.

Yet Pope Benedict points out regarding the fast from the Eucharist: “Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary to deepen and renew our relationship with the Body of Christ?”

Now in Europe and some places in the U.S. this fast from the Eucharist has become mandatory. Anyone can approach a
Forlorn Catholics cannot attend Mass during the Coronavirus
priest and ask to be given the Eucharist. In large population centres like Toronto, New York and Vienna, it may be a difficult goal to realise on a daily basis. 

Whether such a fast is good or bad depends on the individual’s response. It is very bad for the lapsed or indifferent Catholic; good for the divorced and remarried Catholic anguished about the separation. Anything that sharpens our hunger for Christ is good. 

Imagine! The indifferent Catholics of Europe have lost the freedom to go to Mass. Will this stir their conscience?  With the plague breathing down their throats will Europeans recover their desire for the Presence of God? 

And what of the Catholics who can’t find a priest to give them communion? Their spiritual progress depends on how they suffer through the absence of Holy Communion:  “We can understand how, paradoxically, the impossibility of sacramental communion experienced in a sense of remoteness from God, in the pain of yearning which fosters the growth of love, can lead to spiritual progress, whereas rebellion …. inevitably destroys the positive and constructive sense of excommunication. Rebellion is not the healing but the destroying of love,” Pope Benedict said. 

On Sunday night before the ban on Mass went into effect in Austria (March 16), the parish priest in Trumau led a Eucharistic Procession around the entire town of 3,580 people. He carried the Eucharist. 

For me a profound sense of peace descended. On Monday night, the priests on campus serenaded all the students huddled in their apartments with the Byzantine Marian hymn, the Akathist: “Rejoice, thou through whom joy will flash forth! Rejoice, unwedded bride! Rejoice, thou through whom the curse will cease!” We heard the deep masculine voices from our windows and balconies. 

Many of our students were flying home the next day. After they are gone, we continue to pray the Rosary together at 9 p.m. from our balconies and our windows. We cannot socialise, but we sure can pray! 

In fact, Pope Francis has granted an enormous number of plenary indulgences for simple acts like saying the Rosary and watching Mass on TV while praying for the intentions of the victims of the Coronavirus! Those of us who remember that Pope John Paul II urged us to give our plenary indulgences to Our Lady for the poor souls in Purgatory now reap a rich harvest for heaven. 

On March 19, Pope Francis organised a worldwide Rosary for an end to the plague. I had emails from my friends in the United States urging me to pray the Rosary with the Pope. No fear, as usual at 9 p.m. here in Austria, the students all gathered outside to pray the Rosary while holding torches of fire. On this night, there was no sign of Krampus on campus.

So this Lent, you may be forced to fast from everything else, but keep praying.

Pray for the victims of the Coronavirus and their families. Pray for the world. 

Author Susan Fox publishes this Catholic blog, www.christsfaithfulwitness.com with almost 4 million page views. She graduated June 8, 2019 Magne Cum Laude with a Master’s in Marriage and Family from a pontifical school, faithful to the Catholic Magisterium, the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. She is a former award winning investigative business reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, The San Diego Union, The Spokesmen Review in Spokane, Wash. and a newswire in Washington, D.C. where she wrote under her maiden name, Susan Burkhardt.

Akathist sung by priests and students on the evening of April 1, 2020 in the courtyard outside our apartments at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. It starts out hesitatingly, but builds powerfully by the end. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent report. Very detailed as you report near "ground zero". May I mention that '"Shekinah" is never mentioned in Sacred scriptures but comes from the false book, The Talmud, and is further developed in the gnostic, occult book Kabbalah.