St. Michael’s and the Pandemic
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem., Prior
There is a certain thrill that passes through our hearts when we hear about that primitive Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles. That first reading is the charter of our Norbertine life. The opening line, which we also heard last evening at Vespers, is the summary: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
We call this life apostolic, and rightly so, for not only was it first practiced by the Apostles themselves, and not only because it is the spiritually right springboard for all apostolic efforts at evangelization, but also because the deposit of faith, given by Jesus Christ and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, was taught there by that most select band, each member of which was personally gifted with infallibility. This was the conduit of truth which has electrified the Church ever since.
The communal life is so broad and all encompassing, and yet what unites it all, that is the actual bond of unity, is charity, the love of the brethren. And therefore, “All who believed were together,” in the common life, and “had all things in common,” which is the first definition of our religious poverty. Having all things in common is further explained in that all “would sell their property and possessions,” after the invitation of Christ to the rich young man, “and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”
In addition to the apostolic doctrine and communal life, they also gave themselves “to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” They centered their day on the Mass and hours of prayer, “breaking bread in their homes,” and “meeting together in the temple area.” The truth that filled their minds and the love that filled their hearts found first expression in common prayer, the value of which is seen in the last line of the reading: “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” We know that Peter had already preached his first homily and that later they all met in Solomon’s Portico, that many cures were worked, but also that the primary importance had to be with prayer. And it was because of this prayerful foundation that there was apostolic fruitfulness.
We recognize this life. This is us. We too are dedicated to the faith handed on to us by the Apostles. We try every day to live better the life of fraternal charity. We have little more right now than prayer, and yet we have abundant spiritual fruit. Those who want salvation come to us; we hardly have to go to them. Many, many cures have been worked in the classroom confessionals, and far greater ones than physical cures. And what of this plague?
I find it a head-scratcher that in all the news and talk about this disease, we see government mandates to stay at home, we find masks on almost everyone when you go out, we have antiseptic sprays and ubiquitous hand sanitizer, we have social distancing, quarantine, and self-isolation. But when we also notice that the numbers are far, far less than what was expected or predicted, there are various theories of conspiracy by the government, by pharmaceuticals, by whomever; a few voices rise up that our draconian measures have actually been effective…but I have not once heard that our prayers have been answered. The entire Catholic Church in America has been praying to our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas, and we nightly before the Blessed Sacrament, that “we might be spared the worst of this illness”; as a community we have processed daily with sacred relics around our property singing, A peste, fame, et bello, líbera nos, Dómine,1 and Ut a pestiléntiæ flagéllo nos líberare dignéris, te rogámus, audi nos2—twice each! But who has given glory to God?! It is by His mercy that we have been spared up till now. Many, many more than two or three have gathered in the name of Jesus, we have asked in the name of Jesus—and He has done it! We shouldn’t be surprised, but neither should we dismiss it. Maybe all those other measures have worked, but certainly prayer has. “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness.”
And if we need proof of it, He Who has worked the greater certainly works the lesser. This is why Jesus also healed the paralytic after forgiving his sins. So if Christ has brought and continues to bring endless lines of repentant sinners to us because we’re also praying, Ab omni peccáto,3 Ab ira, et ódio et omni mala voluntáte,4 and A spíritu fornicatiónis, líbera nos, Dómine,5 as well as, Ut ad veram pœniténtiam nos perdúcere dignéris, te rogámus, audi nos,6 then we must also gratefully credit His mercy for what we have not suffered thus far from pestilence.
This community life is a beautiful thing, a holy thing. And it is a necessary thing; our generosity in self-giving, prayer, and priestly ministry is necessary—for the world to obtain the grace and mercy it needs to be saved both in this life and life everlasting.
1 From plague, famine, and war, deliver us, O Lord.
2 That Thou wouldst deign to free us from the scourge of pestilence, we beseech Thee, hear us.
3 From every sin
4 From anger, hatred, and every ill will
5 From the spirit of fornication, deliver us, O Lord.
6 That Thou wouldst deign to lead us to true penitence, we beseech Thee, hear us.
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