I opened YouTube one morning recently, as usual, to hear another excellent homily by a hugely popular young Catholic priest from Canada. The title of this episode revealed that the latest COVID madness of requiring vaccine passports for attendance at Mass had just come to Quebec. And yet, as I heard the priest begin his rebuttal to this astonishing overreach, my heart sank.
This young priest made the grave error, as have nearly all of the clergy and Church hierarchy since the beginning of the pandemic, of first assuming that the spiritual mission and heavenly government of the Church must be accommodated to the shifting politics and priorities of the civil government. He proceeded to beg for relief from the new restrictions — not by questioning the authority of the government to impose such restrictions at all, but by noting how scrupulously the Church had thus far complied with other equally nonsensical mandates, such as occupancy limits, social distancing, masks, and obsessive-compulsive hand-sanitizing. But once you have accepted the authority of the State to tell you when and where to jump, your only recourse is to ask, "How high?" Predictably, the opinions of the clergy about how high is high enough will take a distant back seat to the agenda of Anthony Fauci and Justin Trudeau, et al.
Christ was completely radical by the standards of the current leadership of the Church. He said to Peter — three times for emphasis — "feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). He did not say, "Feed my sheep, provided you can do so in complete safety and at no legal jeopardy to yourself, or otherwise forget it." Peter and the other apostles took these words to heart. They locked the door of the Upper Room where they were gathered after Christ's death precisely because they were violating the orders of the government. They were not allowed to gather there, or anywhere else for that matter, nor would Christians be allowed to gather for the better part of the next three centuries. When an angel appeared to break Peter out of the prison (Acts 12:1-19), where he had been sent for the crime of preaching the Gospel, Peter did not ask the angel to wait until he received his COVID pass from the government. If the Church fathers had adhered to the supine, permission-seeking philosophy of today's prelates and clergy, there would be no Church.
For generations, the clergy have preached to the faithful that their battle is not against flesh and blood (or viruses, for that matter), but against dark powers and principalities (Eph. 6:12), and that Satan prowls the world like a roaring lion, seeking to devour the souls of men (1 Pet. 5:8). Yet in looking at the Church's hapless response during the pandemic, one is left to wonder whether they ever really bought what they were selling or, if so, where they expected the battle to take place and the lion to show up. Could the Prince of Darkness have hoped for any greater victory than to enlist the pope, the bishops, and the clergy in a worldwide plan to bar the doors of the Church that Christ founded to conquer our fear of death over...wait for it...the fear of death?
Much ink has been wasted lamenting the hypocrisy and cowardice of bishops. It has been ever thus. The source of the idiom that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and lighted by the skulls of bishops" may be lost to antiquity, but its currency stubbornly endures. It is time for individual parish priests to stand against the madness that so many bishops refuse to confront and to do so at the risk of their own sinecures and freedom if necessary. Let a thousand parish priests stand in the doorways of the nation's churches, refusing to bar admission to anyone, and let Joe Biden remain silent while they are arrested and thrown in jail. Then two things will happen: Joe Biden's approval rating will sink even lower and faster than anyone thought humanly possible, and the coffers and pews of churches around the nation will swell to overflowing. Or let the nation's priests once again meekly obey their bishops to surrender to the government's campaign of fear and totalitarianism, and expect the Church to continue to wither as it has done.
Vows of obedience to bishops go only so far. No priest would hesitate to disobey an order from his bishop not to give Communion to certain ethnic groups. Yet with rare exceptions, priests complied with orders to close the churches. It appears they will do so again, now, with orders to require vaccine passports for attendance at Mass. Whatever the culpability of bishops for the current dumpster fire that is the Church's COVID policy, every parish priest will one day have to give account for the task assigned to him that was first spoken by Christ to Peter.
Adam tragically sought to blame Eve for his own moral agency. I don't fancy any better chances for the parish priest who plans to say, "My bishop made me do it."