An Easter Sunday unlike any other

What a strange Easter Sunday! The churches are silent. Even Easter Sunday parties have given way to sombre reflection, as we sit alone in our houses with few family members or none at all.

We may try to cheer ourselves up with Easter Sunday lunch, but even if we have laid out on our table, the roasted lamb, Easter cakes and cookies, and a fine bottle of Pauillac, it’s just not the same without the Easter Sunday Mass to precede our festivities.

It seems as if Our Lord has disappeared and left us alone. Yet that isn’t so. He is here. He never left us. It is us who have deserted Him so many times. Perhaps Our Lord is asking more from us this Easter, more than just participating in Easter egg hunts. He wants us to sit down in a quiet place and reflect, to meditate upon the Resurrection. We have the Octave of Easter to do just that. Eight days of praying, meditating in a quiet place, and doing a lot of spiritual reading. Eight days to understand and know deep in our bones that without the Cross, there cannot be a Resurrection and unless we deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily and follow Him, we will not be resurrected.

It is a time to rejoice, yet, it’s hard to do when so many people are suffering, not just the loss of loved ones, but the loss of livelihoods, businesses, opportunities, dreams. Think about poor people who live on day wages – the Thai tuktuk driver, the Mexican day labourer, the American Uber driver, the Italian cleaning lady, the Filipino jeepney driver. All of us are united by our suffering.

To those who harbour hatred against the Chinese people, I have this to say: pray for the Chinese people. Pray for the soul of the late Chinese doctor, Dr. Li Wenliang, who at grave risk to his livelihood, tried to alert the authorities about the spread of the virus, and at the risk of his life, continued to serve his patients unto death. I cannot think about Dr. Li without tears coming to my eyes. I pray for him all the time and for people like him. May the Lord have mercy on Dr. Li and grant him a wonderful place in heaven. That is what Christian charity is: giving up you life for other people. Remember what Saint Paul said. It goes something like this: you can have all the knowledge in the world about Christian dogma and follow all of the duties of our religion, but if you have no charity, you have no place next to Our Lord in heaven.

You think you’re better than Dr. Li? You think you have the right to curse the entire nation of China, including its doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who have died serving their patients? Think about Dr. Li’s parents. He’s probably an only child. If his parents are alive, what are they going through? Is your heart so hard that you cannot weep for them? Our Lord always had such a soft heart for widows and parents of children who died. Many of his miracles involved raising their children from the dead.

I hear all kinds of nonsense from people who call themselves devout Catholics, but who are filled with hatred in their hearts against the Chinese, inciting people to hate them. Instead pray for the Chinese people that God may deliver them from the CCP. This Easter, look into your hearts and root out all hatred. Stop blaming other people. If the corona virus is indeed a chastisement from God, it’s because of OUR sinful lives that we are being chastised. Yes, OUR sinful lives, my dear Christian people. Look into the mirror first before you point the finger at other people. If you fail at that, then the entire Lent, despite all your fasting and praying and meditating, has been a total waste.

It is a time to pray for those who are suffering the most and to ask Our Lord for mercy, to end the corona virus pandemic. It is time to reform our own lives. Pray the Rosary. Pray the Divine Office. Spend time in meditation. Do spiritual reading (see my recommended list of books).

Here is a lovely Easter poem by George Herbert (who was a Welsh-born poet in the 17th century and a priest in the Church of England).

Easter Wings by George Herbert

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store, 
      Though foolishly he lost the same, 
            Decaying more and more, 
                  Till he became 
                        Most poore: 
                        With thee 
                  O let me rise 
            As larks, harmoniously, 
      And sing this day thy victories: 
Then shall the fall further the flight in me. 

My tender age in sorrow did beginne 
      And still with sicknesses and shame. 
            Thou didst so punish sinne, 
                  That I became 
                        Most thinne. 
                        With thee 
                  Let me combine, 
            And feel thy victorie: 
         For, if I imp my wing on thine, 
Affliction shall advance the flight in me. 

Check out this Resurrection painting (part of a triptych) by Peter Paul Rubens. It’s one of my favourites. Here’s Our Lord, muscular and healthy, showing no signs of having been tortured and crucified, like He just finished training at Gold’s Gym, stomping on the silly soldiers who think that a piece of rock was going to stop Him from leaping out of the tomb.

City of God versus the city of man

Take a good look at these two photos. I took them not too long ago, before the corona virus laid waste to the entire travel industry. I’ll leave you to guess where these photos were taken. That’s not important. What’s important is to understand that one represents the City of God and the other, the city of man.

City of God

The first photo represents the City of God. On top of the hill lies a church, and the cross of Our Lord stands watch over the town’s inhabitants. Whenever the townspeople look up, they see the Lamb of God, crucified for our sins. They know that He rose from the dead after three days, so there is no reason to despair. All they have to do is to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow after Him. Easier said than done, but worth trying every day of one’s life. The town is ancient. The existing homes are constructed on older buildings. Eroded by wind and rain, bleached by the rays of the sun, overrun by invaders over the course of hundreds of years, the town remains standing, more mysterious and sublime than ever (like the Roman Catholic Church). There is something cozy and lovely about this town. It’s a place you’d want to take shelter in, a place that protects you.

city of man

The second photo represents the city of man. It looks like every other modern city. There is nothing to distinguish it from its counterparts in other countries. It has erased its history and like other modern cities, makes plenty of room for every single human vice. It is modernism expressed in architecture and lifestyle. Unlike the town in the first photo, this city screams at you. Look at me! I am Progress. I am the triumph of man and his technological prowess. I don’t need God. I can do anything I like. Whatever is new is best because it’s new. Unfortunately, the city is extremely vulnerable and fragile. All it takes to make it collapse is to turn off the electricity. So it is with people who make their permanent residence in the city of man.

And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

We are being asked right now to choose where we will take up permanent residence – the City of God or the city of man. With a deadly virus on our doorstep, anyone could die anytime, and quickly, too. If you choose the City of God, there’s no need to worry. The corona virus can kill your body, but not your soul. The city of man will kill your soul (and your body). Choose.

Now is the time to rethink your life and how our society should be organised

If this corona virus pandemic isn’t making you think about your life and our society, there is something wrong with you. Something as microscopic as a virus has caused our globalised “living arrangement” (as author James Howard Kunstler calls it) to collapse within a couple of weeks. The dysfunctional three-decade long system where China makes everything, floods the planet with shoddy goods and tourists, has come to an unexpected end. You can bet your sorry dollar that the Chinese want nothing more than for things to go back to normal because the truth is that China cannot survive without the West, much as they’d like to pretend otherwise. Our elites also want this living arrangement to go on because they have gotten filthy rich and powerful from it. When you talk about the costs and downsides of globalisation, they call you “racist”, “Luddite”, or whatever comes to their greedy little minds.

And it isn’t just about our dealings with China. It’s the centralisation and massification of everything – mass sporting events, mass music festivals, and mass tourism. All of this depends upon “cheap” mass transportation like discount flights and cruises. It’s not cheap because they pollute the environment and destroy places like Venice, Florence, Santorini, and Phuket. There is a terrible price to pay and Greta Thunberg, who has appointed herself saviouress of the planet never ever talks about this destruction – physical, spiritual and aesthetic – by cheap flights and cruise ships. She doesn’t talk about the pollution generated by China and India to fuel our unquenchable thirst for novelties.

The sheer stupidity of this way of life of “mass everything” has become evident to even a small child. Our so-called leaders have been exposed for the money-grubbing virtue-signalling incompetents that they truly are. They will try to bring back “business as usual” and on the surface, when this panic is over, it will seem as if everything were back to normal.

But don’t be deceived. Now that the incompetent elites and our idiotic living arrangement have been exposed, there is no way people can go back to thinking that things can go on the way they did before, or that they have to accept the lies they’ve been told.

The question remains: What will people do with their lives? Will they change? We cannot blame everything on our leaders. We put them there. We approved and accepted the current living arrangement. We prefer empty hedonism to what is good, beautiful and true even though our desperate pleasure-seeking has left us despondent, suicidal and ill.

This is the time for spiritual reading, prayer and meditation. Alas, because churches have been shut in many countries, many cannot assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and are left without access to the sacraments of penance and communion. Therefore, we have to make acts of perfect contrition and spiritual communion everyday.

I urge people to get the New Roman Missal by Father Lasance. I have reviewed it here. It contains all the prayers you need for acts of contrition and spiritual communion, plus all the Masses for saints’ feast days, Sundays, Lent, etc.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s spring. Don’t forget to enjoy the tulips!

All things have their season: a meditation on the fragility of life; my trip to Italy

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-5) (Douay-Rheims)
Duomo in Naples, Italy

It appears that Covid-19 (aka corona virus) is far more deadly and easily spread than the flu, SARS or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Are those who scoffed at the Chinese government’s draconian quarantine of entire cities now lying on a hospital bed breathing with the aid of a respirator? Did their family wake up one morning to find themselves subject to a lockdown, barred from leaving their homes? Do their friends suddenly remember “The Plague” by Albert Camus, assigned reading in literature class in high school, half a century ago?

How quickly things change! One day, you are partying in Rome on Mardi Gras, tipsy from too much wine, and a week later, Italy shuts down. I experienced this first hand. I flew from Athens to Naples on February 23, when only a few towns in Lombardia and Piemonte were locked down. Arriving in Naples, I was confronted upon landing by a woman with a face mask and gloves, aiming a plastic gun at my head to take my temperature. But in the city of Naples itself, on a Sunday night during carnival season, it was party time. Confetti lay on sidewalks and piazzas; they must have had some kind of celebration that day. Bars and restaurants were jam-packed with people and we had to wait half an hour for a table which we reserved in a restaurant. So much for the corona virus, I thought.

I visited churches and museums in Naples, and all of them were empty. Perhaps that is normal in the off-season. But on my second day in Naples, things began to get much worse in Italy and I thought about cancelling the trip to Florence and Rome. It didn’t seem so bad yet. So off to Florence!

The train from Naples to Florence (endpoint Milan) was almost empty. It did not seem odd to me, as more corona virus cases had been discovered in Milan. Perhaps Neapolitan businessmen had decided after all to cancel their sales trips to Milan. I was pleased. No crowded trains, less chance of getting a virus.

I arrived in Florence to find a city, wholeheartedly devoted to mass tourism, devoid of tourists. Florence was a ghost town without tourists and even with tourists, it is a kind of ghost town. Over the last 20 years, locals moved away (like Venice) and the centre has been hollowed out. Now, instead of family-owned businesses catering to Florentines living in the city, you have Chinese restaurants catering to Chinese tourists, and a central market which is 80% shuttered for lack of visitors. It’s obvious that no locals shop there anymore because no locals live in the city. Very sad indeed, as the last time I visited Florence in 2000, there were still many mom-and-pop shops in the city, including fine leather goods stores with shoes and bags made in Tuscany. The decline of Florence and Venice into tacky mass market tourist theme parks is a large part of the story of Italy and its collapse.

You can’t talk about Italy’s woes and not use the word “collapse”. Just look at Naples. It’s dirtier than many places I’ve been to in India. If there is a gold standard for filth, it’s India. Now Naples has achieved that dubious honour – it’s as filthy as India. Yet, the people don’t seem perturbed. Living in the midst of a giant rubbish dump seems normal. There is no place in Naples not strewn with rubbish. As one goes north in Italy, the amount of rubbish declines but not entirely. One sees too much graffiti, even in Florence and Rome. No one cares to clean it up. Italians don’t care about Italy anymore. They’ve allowed everything to deteriorate. As a result, their institutions cannot cope with any emergency. The aftermath of the epidemic will be just as terrible: loss of income, bankruptcies, even more deterioration in public services. What is the solution – more tourism?

There are advantages to being in Florence and Rome without hordes of tourists. In Florence, I had a chance to gaze at Fra Angelico’s paintings in San Marco without anyone around me, and to contemplate quietly his painting of the Annunciation (see below).

Annunciation by Fra Angelico (in the convent of San Marco)

At San Giovanni in Laterano, I breezed through the security check and found myself in an empty basilica, eerily quiet, but for a couple of priests at the confessionals. I did what every Catholic who hasn’t been to Confession in two months would have done (I was traveling in Greece after all): I went to Confession. I asked one of the priests timidly if he could hear my confession in English and he pointed to the sign next to him which listed several languages. Ah, thank heavens for Catholic priests who speak multiple languages!

The fragility of life calls for confession. I had written down my sins (plus their number) on a piece of paper and began to read them out dutifully, when all of a sudden, I broke down in tears. I was simply so happy to be able to go to confession after all these months in Greece without access to the sacrament of penance, only confessing my sins directly to Our Lord. I cried and cried because I was truly sorry for all my stupid sins, and I wished I were perfect and not such a stupid person, and that I would never commit these horrid sins again, and poor Father had to deal with my sobbing. I wonder how many people come into San Giovanni in Laterano and sob at the confessional. Father (who had a German accent) spoke to me gently, gave me my penance, and absolved me from my sins. As I did my penance after confession, I continued to cry. What an incredible sacrament it is, penance! After that, I felt light as air. I went into the museum and cloister of the Lateran Basilica walking on a cloud. I have never felt better in months! If anyone asks me for one reason to become a Catholic, I would say the sacrament of penance.

There I am, skipping down the streets of Rome in a post-confession high, visiting the churches of the Gesu, Sant’Ignazio de Loyola, and San Pietro in Vincoli, on a gorgeous spring day, without any crowds or tour groups. Rome was quite empty, which was amazing. Even the Colosseum basked in the warm sunlight alone, rid of the hordes bearing selfie-sticks.

But what struck me was Friday night at a Roman restaurant where a reservation is difficult to obtain. Voila! There were only six people. Think about it: a warm spring night in Rome, 9:30 in the evening and there were hardly any people in bars and restaurants. And this is near the Pantheon. The food and wine were wonderful, but I had a terribly feeling about how badly things were going in Italy. I read the Corriere della Serra website several times a day using Google Chrome (with auto-translate) and watched with dread as the tragedy unfolded.

I am fortunate to have left Italy on February 29 on a Thai Air flight to Bangkok, then on to Japan. By the time I reached Japan, it appeared that Italian government was going to quarantine the entire country. Masses had been cancelled, football matches scheduled to be played in empty stadia, musea, churches and schools closed. One day, the Italians are partying and the next day, they are quarantined in their homes. In an instant the hedonistic lifestyle gives way disease and death.

One thing is certain: all over the world people have stopped doing what they normally do. They are working at home, not sitting in traffic or attending boring meetings and conferences. They are studying at home, not sitting in a packed auditorium listening to a dull professor droning on and on. They are cooking meals at home, not eating out at a restaurant. They are drinking all by themselves, at home, not in a crowded bar, watching football. They are not sitting in a cramped discount airline, on the way to Paris. They are (hopefully) not stuck on a cruise ship (a floating, ocean-going petri dish of viruses and bacteria if there ever was one).

Will people put their lives under a microscope? Will they ask themselves if spending their days doing things they hate, things which diminish the dignity of their souls, is worthwhile? Will they finally come to the conclusion that the unsustainable living arrangement called globalisation has become intolerable? Will those who are lapsed Catholics (as I once was) return to the faith and find comfort in the one Treasure whose peace and joy exceeds anything available on this planet?

Because this is, after all, the blog of a Roman Catholic woman who returned to the Faith in March 2017 after 40 years away, all of her observations, opinions and conclusions arise out of that return to holy Mother Church.

Are you prepared to die? Am I prepared to die? The answer has to be: Yes. I have to be prepared to die even when I feel as if I’m not. I pray the Confiteor every night (which is one of the prayers in the Completorium of the Divine Office) and I perform, as best as I can, an examination of conscience. I place myself at the mercy of Him whose yoke is sweet and whose burden is light. Often I yearn to be in heaven with Him, where there is no death or illness or suffering. I try to be prepared, but I know it’s easy to say this when I’m healthy and none of my family or friends is suffering from a deadly illness. I pray everyday that the world be delivered from the scourge of this virus, and that people don’t go back to business as usual, but truly examine their consciences and make a sincere amendment of their lives.

Top 5 things to do while in self-isolation (corona virus edition)

  1. Read War and Peace (or any of the classics). Don’t turn on the TV or mindlessly browse the Internet. Sit down with a cup of hot tea and read one or more of Tolstoy’s great works, starting with War and Peace, moving on to Anna Karenina should your confinement be extended.
  2. Read the Bible and meditate on its passages. Also read spiritual books. I have a list of recommended reading. Now is the perfect time to think of death, especially your own death. Watch or listen to a sermon on the Four Last Things. Since you can’t go to Confession, examine your conscience, and make an act of contrition.
  3. Pray: the Rosary, the Divine Office, the Litanies, or any other prayers that will help you get to heaven.
  4. Take up an artistic endeavour: watercolour painting, drawing, piano, guitar, etc. You will have lots of time to practice.
  5. Clean your house meticulously (assuming you aren’t actually ill).

Lent in the time of pandemics (corona virus)

I am writing this on Ash Wednesday in northern Italy where entire towns have been quarantined. An emergency unthinkable only a week ago, the frightened residents of those towns now have the luxury of time – to sit at home and read Albert Camus’s “The Plague”. Or perhaps devote themselves to prayer and repentance. But in all likelihood they’ll just sit in front of the TV and their cellphones. Here in Florence, masses have not yet been cancelled and I had planned to attend Ash Wednesday mass at Santi Michele e Gaetano but I’m afraid.

I am afraid to catch the corona virus. I am afraid to be a spreader, one of those people who get the virus, don’t fall ill, but spread it to other people (the elderly).

I am devastated that I can’t go to mass. This is my third Lent after coming back to the Catholic Church. In 2017, this prodigal daughter returned after 40 years away. I wanted so badly to get ashes and start Lent with a bang. I had been so excited about this Ash Wednesday mass for over a month. But God has other plans.

These are abnormal times. Schools in Palermo and Naples, far from the virus epicenter, have closed. Life has been disrupted. Yet strangely people behave as if all this will simply fade away and everything will go back to normal.

I don’t think it will. A lot of businesses will go bankrupt. The bizarre economic arrangement called globalization has reached its predictable end.

This is truly a time of prayer and repentance, meditation and acts of charity. It is important to fast and abstain from meat, but that should only be a start. If you fast, go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation but you have no charity, it’s all for nothing.

Miracles happen: Anglican bishop becomes a Catholic

Who says miracles don’t happen anymore? Dr. Gavin Ashenden, an Anglican bishop and former chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II, will be received into the Catholic Church on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 22 December 2019, at Shrewsbury Cathedral. Dr. Ashenden isn’t some obscure Anglican bishop so his conversion is astonishing. This will no doubt cause many others who are afraid or uncertain, to become Catholic. Gaudete!

I’ve written about miracles before, notably the miracle of my own return to the Catholic Church. We who grew up watching special effects in movies, who filled the aisles of IMAX theatres, think of miracles as mind-boggling events such as the parting of the Red Sea and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Indeed these are spectacular miracles, but just as astounding are the conversion of those outside the Church and the return of prodigal children like me. In these dark times when the Church seems lost or destroyed by wicked cardinals, bishops and priests, when hundreds of thousands have left the true Faith, God grants us his mercy and showers us with graces like the conversion of a prominent Anglican bishop.

Today I prayed five decades of the Rosary for Dr. Gavin Ashenden asking Our Blessed Mother, Queen of the Clergy, to protect him from the Evil One and to make him into a most productive worker in the vineyard of Our Lord. Pray for Dr. Ashenden and for all Anglican priests who are thinking of converting, or who have converted. Pray for the conversion of England.