Like everybody else, I am waiting and watching for the end of the "Coronapocolypse". I'm waiting for the end of social distancing, waiting for a time when we can go to mass, go out to eat, go to the gym, go to a movie. We are all waiting for this to be over. But it may be a mistake to presume that the end of the coronavirus pandemic/plague will restore our lives to normalcy. The pandemic itself may not be an end in itself, but rather the start of a series of events that compose one great chastisement of man; not one plague, but the first of a series of plagues, of one sort or another.
I believe this to be true, because I see this pandemic through the eyes of faith, not from a secular point of view, and realistically speaking I don't see the world getting the message that God is sending; not with just one plague. I believe the world is so far off the rails that it will take multiple plagues to adequately chastise man enough for humanity to get the message. It has really come to that.
This pandemic isn’t some mere mishap, as many in the world, in and out of the Church, are seeing it. It is an “act” of God. I use “act” loosely because it is not something that God has done, but something that God has allowed to happen, for His higher purposes. As an act of God, it has a point and purpose. It will not fail to bear fruit. It will not ultimately go unheeded. God does nothing pointlessly. But if we're incapable of getting the message during the COVID-19 pandemic (as I observe we are), and God does nothing pointlessly, then the COVID-19 pandemic (plague) is not the end of God's action, but a beginning. As shocking as that may be, the truth is it isn't unheard of; we have seen it in history already, as I'll demonstrate in a moment. First, a foundation.
History and Purpose of Chastisement
A priest friend of mine once told me God historically acts through chastisements in order to correct and/or purify us: “…You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the Lord my God” Jeremiah 31:18. God chastises in order to bring us back when we’re lost, to punish/correct us for sin that has gotten out of control. Other examples can be seen throughout scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments; Leviticus 26:38, 2 Samuel 7:14 Revelation 3:19, John 15:2, 1 Corinthians 11:32.
Mostly the scripture talks about chastisements of individual persons. Less frequently it mention widespread or global chastisements (such as what we're seeing now), which are exceptional and more serious than individual ones. Some examples of widespread chastisements are the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Deluge (the flood of Noah), and probably the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Outside of scripture, World War I and II and the Black Plague are seen as widespread chastisements of man. But perhaps the most well known widespread chastisement was the ten plagues of Egypt in the book of Exodus. And that is what brings me to my conclusion that the “plague” of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 is not an end, but a beginning of a series of events.
An Action has an Actor (and actors have purposes)
It's rational as believers to see this pandemic as a chastisement of some kind. So it follows that we have to believe that God is trying to correct us and/or to purify us by chastising us. But in order to be corrected or purified man must first acknowledge that this pandemic comes from God and not from natural coincidence. Coincidences don't have purposes. Actors do. Remove the actor, and you remove the purpose. So if people don’t see God in this in the first place, they will not discern a purpose to it (chastisement) and will not act in response to it (conversion, faithfulness). Instead they'll simply see this pandemic as “some cosmic hell-of-a-thing”, and we’ll hide in our homes until it passes, at which point we’ll go on living our lives mostly the way we lived them before the pandemic. We’ll have learned little or nothing, and changed little or nothing, rendering this single chastisement almost pointless. But God doesn’t do anything pointlessly. So perhaps this pandemic isn’t the chastisement at all, and is only the beginning of events that, as a whole, and combined, compose a larger chastisement that will not be ignored; one in which God and his will are no longer deniable.
Deaf Ears, Blind Eyes, Hardened Hearts
The trouble is, in my opinion modern humanity is blind and deaf and foolish. Most of us, even many of us who are practicing Catholics, are missing the message because we have overlooked the presence of a messenger. In the Church many of us don’t acknowledge that this is a chastisement because we do not acknowledge that God chastises at all, let alone that he chastises because of sin. We don’t see God behind the pandemic, and therefor we can’t see chastisement behind its effects, or sin behind its cause. If Catholics are this ignorant, how much more blind and foolish are those in the secular world—those who habitually never see anything through the eyes of faith? And if the world—believer and unbeliever alike—will largely miss the whole message, then this chastisement was pointless, perhaps even mean-spirited, unless it is actually a part of a whole rather than an end in and of itself. And, as I said earlier, we have seen this before! We saw it in Egypt during the Exodus of the Jews.
Egypt and the Ten Plagues
Because Pharaoh refused to set the Israelites free, and in order to demonstrate his power and majesty to the non-believing pagans, God sent ten plagues to punish Egypt, each one more serious than the one preceding it. Pharaoh and his officers and magicians dismissed the plagues at first. They did not recognize that the hand of God was against Egypt. As they dismissed one plague, another more serious plague struck. Gradually, but slowly, they moved from disbelief, to doubt, to resistance, to resignation with each successive plague. At the start of the plagues, the Egyptians didn't believe. By the middle, they believed but doubted. Toward the end, they acknowledged but resisted. Resignation didn't happen until the final, most devastating plague—the death of the firstborn of Egypt. It took ten plagues, not just one, to get the Egyptians where God wanted them. Can we honestly believe that modern man, just as proud, hardened and disbelieving as those ancient pagans, will require anything less before we are resigned to His will?
A critic may say "The only reason it took ten plagues instead of one was because God hardened Pharaoh's heart." but while the literature of scripture does say that, I think it's theologically more accurate to understand that God permitted the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. God illuminates the reason, he doesn't darken it. We darken it by sinning. In this case Pharaoh's heart was hardened by pride, and pride comes from the devil. God allowed this, again, for his greater purpose, which is why it can fairly be said that God "hardened Pharaoh's heart". Egypt, therefor, is not off the hook. They were chastised by ten plagues not because of God, but because of the Egyptians.
God was sending a message to Egypt. He was making a distinction between His people and Pharaoh’s people. He was chastising Egypt. It took ten plagues for Egypt to get the message, because they did not believe, their hearts were hardened, they were proud and stubborn. They loved the comfort and [unjust] prosperity that slave labor provides. How are we any different? We do not believe, or we believe wrongly. Our hearts are hardened by pride, and by love of pleasures. As the Egyptians worshiped gods that did not exist, we today worship false gods—the gods of pleasure, sex, money, material goods, worldiness. Just as Egypt turned to their false gods for deliverance from the plagues, so do we turn to our false gods to deliver us from this pandemic by distracting our minds and hearts away from it, and away from God. Just as the Egyptians were too blind, deaf, foolish, and ignorant to “get the message” of the first plague, I feel we are, also. One plague wasn’t enough for them. I fear one will not be enough for us. Even the Holy Father is attributing this plague to nature's response to our ambivalence to climate change…yes, “Pharoah’s” heart is hardened. When even the Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Church seems to be missing the message, surely one plague will not be enough for mankind to get the message God is sending.
What Is the Message?
I believe the messages we are supposed to get are both universal, and personal. I think the universal message that the whole world is supposed to get is that all mankind needs to remember God, abandon our sinful lifestyles, repent of our sins, commit ourselves to God’s will (the commandments, and the Gospel). I know that man has never been perfect, but the sins of man today are unlike any other period in human history. Yet as wicked as we are, it has all become “normal”. Abortion, the distortion of marriage and of the family, pornography, blasphemy—these types of sins have always infected human beings in some way or other, but they have never been global, and they were never seen as acceptable, normal, even virtuous.
I believe the personal message each of us is supposed to get uniquely is…well I don’t know. It’s a personal message. Only you know what that message is for you. But I do firmly believe each of us is called to hear God’s voice and to receive a message/lesson he has for each of us uniquely and individually in this pandemic. Maybe it’s to be more caring of your family, to be more patient with them and with others, to busy yourself less with frivolity and more with substance and goodness, to spend less attention on the world, and more attention on Him (God), to value the good things he has given you and thereby recognize his love and care for you. To respond to His love by loving him back, not just with your emotions but with the way you live the life he has given you. Maybe it’s to value our very existence and the lives of others. Maybe his message to you personally is that you’re not working hard enough to change your life, or that you’ve gotten lazy in the spiritual journey toward holiness. Whatever it is, he has something to say to each of us, personally. So listen for it. Pray and keep watch. Pray for his mercy, pray for deliverance, pray for protection, and pray that the world, and you get the message he's sending, sooner than later.
Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!