My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This salutation is how pilgrims greet each other as they pass along the Camino Santiago. Bernard, our trusted sacristan, would have walked the entire French Way since the lockdown began. He averages about 15 km each day just from praying the rosary, and when added up would have exceeded 799km—the length of the Camino Frances. It has been a privilege to accompany him everyday. And the praying continues. Sometimes we are joined by others.
Before I continue, please accept my sincere apologies, my dear people for this rather long silence.
This lockdown has had strange effects on people, one of which is withdrawal—a symptom of depression. I seemed to have retreated when I should have reached out. I have been struggling with this dilemma to write or not. I felt that since I do not hold a conventional view of how we should respond to this pandemic, writing will only invite misunderstanding. As it is, my sense is that there is more of a pandemic of fear than there is a fear of the pandemic. What people consider to be precaution, I see it as paralysis. Hence, my Catch-22. Even voicing this view may be understood as recklessness. The alternative is to maintain silence which I have been doing thus far. For good reasons too. Many are raving about online Masses etc. that to suggest otherwise would come across as attacking what people cherish. I have no intention of that.
What many consider to be a creative way of engaging the Sacrament of the Eucharist is for me a subtle process of disincarnation. In a world where fake news is as good as news, we have come to accept the unreal to be real. A good example is “wood”, something which is real and concrete. As forest reserve got depleted, we started of with laminated wood—a veneer of wood over something which is not wood. After that, we progressed to using plywood. We have proceeded to produce particle boards (just think of cheap Ikea shelves or cupboards). Finally, we simulate wood grains printed on plastic. In fact, these days we do not need a real forest to behold. All we need is a screen saver. This little example illustrates for me the slow process of the virtualisation of reality which is but a process of disincarnation. The virtual appears good enough to be real. But, the logic of the Incarnation stands on the foundation of what is material. Why? The rationale for the Incarnation is because man could not reach God directly or internally. Hence, God had to come to him visibly, in and through the external world. God Himself became man, became body, matter, a sensible subject to unite us with that which is beyond all sense, beyond all conception of the created mind. God did not send us an email. He sent us His Son. The entire project of Satan has been to insinuate to man that God could not have incarnated. Perhaps it explains why my reluctance at writing this pastoral letter.
Just to be clear that I am not against technology but I sense a deeper movement which I would be glad to be wrong about it. Take the Holy Water stoup. We emptied it because it is considered to be a potential source of infection. Whilst the dry stoup represents prudent precaution, my concern is how easily we have forgotten that touch is at the very heart of what it means to be human. Touch or contact which is who we are has now become the possibility of death.
So, what is the alternative to “human touch”? Virtuosity—with this we easily resort to virtual reality thinking that “virtual touching” is sufficient substitute for real human contact and connexion. This is basically my apprehension. We all know that human procreation requires an exchange of bodily fluids. It cannot be that a man stands in one corner with his wife standing at another unless we introduce technology into this human act of reproduction. When human touch is removed from us, we readily stray into the world of make-believe.
What the Conditional MCO has done is to deepen our sense of helplessness especially with its arcane standard operating procedures. Faced this with prolonged paralysis, I chose silence and retreated into praying. Praying in itself is not a bad option but in a media-saturated world, media presence is everything. Silence is considered to be absence at best or the lack of pastoral care at worst. For this I truly apologise.
The rosaries do not seem to accomplish much, if one were to measure them using an “alpha-male achievement” scale. However, I think the rhythm is important. When we are helpless, it is easy to sink into despair but keeping a schedule gives us reason to go on. Furthermore, we have been praying St Michael the Archangel’s Prayer at the end of Mass. What for? It must mean something for we acknowledge that Satan prowls the world seeking the ruin of souls. Satan seeks by any means possible the perdition of souls. The prevention of Mass attendance, under the guise of precaution and protection of health may fall within his predation of souls. That is why we must continue praying. Covid-19 is not merely nature’s comeuppance against our ecological sins. There is definitely a spiritual component to this pandemic and in the realm of spirituality, prayer is paramount. Let us not stop praying every day.
I am in the Cathedral every day. So, should anyone need anything, as Charlie Puth croons, “I am just one call away”.