March 27, 2020 – Life and Death

We're all going to die.

Not of the corona virus. Some will die, but as a society we will survive it. But all of us will die some time; we are powerless to prevent that. What is in our power, is to live well.

In the current crisis discussions are going on about how much we can demand or expect from people in order to save lives, or to limit illness and death? The controversy over the prohibition of smoking in restaurants in Austria, which was drawn out over many years, touched on a similar question: does the concern for the health of third parties justify limiting the rights of individuals (e.g., smokers or owners of restaurants)? Opinions are scattered over a wide spectrum: some believe that measures should have been taken earlier and been ever more strict; others believe that the current measures are already excessive.

The christian faith could possibly play a mediating role in this discussion. We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who loved us unto death, and who rose again from the dead. So we are convinced: death is not the worst thing that can happen and health is not the most important thing; the most important thing in life is love and death is, for the one who believes and loves, the door to eternal life. Thus christian faith "relativizes" fear in the face of a pandemic by giving us a deeper understanding of the meaning of life and of death.

But christian charity also moves us to be concerned and to take care for others as for ourselves. And so the christian faith also confirms the importance of taking the risk of the illness seriously, out of love for our brothers and sisters who could be hit by it.

The Gospels show Jesus consciously and willingly embracing his death, yet also experiencing fear of suffering and death, show his conviction of the victory of life over death, yet also weeping over the death of Lazarus.

It is a fruitful paradox of Christianity. Because we believe in the victory of God's love over death, we are empowered to more intensely value life and to champion it.

March 26, 2020 – Soldiering On or Enjoying

Today is the 11th day of the Stay-at-Home orders in Austria, though it feels like quite a bit longer. The days are so unusual, they feel longer. A couple days ago the government hinted again that it will be quite some time before we can return to "normal life" again, and the return can only be step by step. For those suffering in the current conditions and merely hoping that the whole thing will be over as soon as possible, that is likely unpleasant news.

We can, however, to a significant extent ourselves determine the effect these things have on us. Our we experience the (necessary) new circumstances depends not only on the external situation and our job, but also on our attitude.

I myself am neither out of a job nor required to work more intensely than before, as the police, medical personell and a number of other professionals have to. Pastoral care and parish life continues, though contact takes place mostly by telephone, email and the like. In addition, I am an introvert and enjoy peace and quiet. Still, I miss more personal contact with people, and I can sympathize with those who need such contact much more, or who are out of a job or concerned about it, or who struggle with homeschooling for the first time, and who find the current situation rather burdensome.

One thing that helps me is to be attentive to see the opportunities to be found in the present circumstances, as well as the many things for which to be grateful. E.g., to have somewhat more time to listen to music or to make music, or to clean up, organize or fix various things in my apartment, or to pray, especially in the evenings, when there are usually so many meetings, catecheses, etc. In larger society, it is a blessing to see the solidarity and mutual help given at this time.

That doesn't mean we should pretend everything is rosy; it is not. There is not a little human suffering that we should attend to, quite a bit of sacrifice and deprivation is needed. We can, however, give this assistance and make these sacrifices better from a position of strength, of hope, of joy in the graces God is working this time. In this sense, I hope and pray that all of us can experience this strange and unusual time as a time of blessings.

March 25, 2020 – Feast of the Annunciation

"Behold, I come to do your will, o God." Beginning with the narrative of man’s fall, the whole Bibel tells of the consequences of man’s rejection of God: suffering, death, social and political division, war, and it tells the Gospel, the good news of God’s plan to transform that rejection into acceptance.

This “Yes” has a central place in today’s feast, the Annunciation. Nine months before Christmas, the Lord’s birth, this feast recalls: God himself becomes man, affirms the humanity that he created, and enables man to say a wholehearted, sincere “yes” to God, and to himself, despite destructive, sinful and egoistic tendencies present in him after the fall.

Mary lived from the very beginning in a deep relationship to her child and Lord, a relationship oriented towards her maternity, but rooted in the first place in her faith. In faith she spoke her “Yes”, gave her assent to the Lord’s word to her, revealed through the angel Gabriel. Through this obedience of faith the wonder took place, which we venerate in adoration: God became man, Immanuel, God with us.

As Eve’s and Adam’s disobedience stands at the beginning of humanity’s disobedience, so Mary expresses this obedience of faith, as the new “Eve”, for humanity and for the whole Church, which believes in God, hopes in him, and loves him. We are called with her to renew our assent to God and to his plan for us.

That means for me and each of us: to affirm and to do what I can to achieve my goals and to improve my part of the world in some way. But it also means to accept the world as it is, in a state of imperfection and on a journey, which its uncertainty, its tensions. And it means above all, to trust that God accompanies, calls, and fills us with his grace, that all things lead to good for those who love Him.

March 24, 2020 – Call to Conversion

"See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you" (Jn 5,14).

Some would see in the coronavirus a divine punishment for man's sins. Christ, when asked about the man born blind, rejects the notion that sickness is punishment for an individual's sins. Neither he sinned nor his parents, that he was born blind, but so that God might be glorified (Jn 9:3). Elsewhere Christ sees indicates one may sse catastrophes and injustice as a call to repentance and conversion. (Lk 13,1-5)

In a televised interview on Sunday, Cardinal Schönborn in this vein expressed the hope, that "some rethinking is done in economic matters, but also in regards to the personal lifestyle of each one of us…. is it necessary to fly for the weekend to London to go shopping? Is it necessary to spend Christmas on the Maldives? Is it necessary to take a luxury cruise with 4000 people on a ship? Do there have to be 200,000 aircraft flights a day?

It is not a matter of refraining from what is in human power to hinder suffering and sickness, but of, more than this, seeing the big picture from a perspective of faith and christian hope. We have the certitude of faith, God does not abandon us, and for those who love him, he leads all things to good. (Rom 8,28) And does that also through the rethinking, changes and conversion for which a pandemic and its consequences can be the occasion.

March 23, 2020 – New Heavens and a New Earth

"Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind." (Isa 65:17). Isaiah transmits the Lord's promise to give God's faithful yet suffering people courage: the victory will be won, finally, neither by unjust human powers nor by unfeeling powers of nature, which can repress and destroy life, but the power of love, which makes alive. God will create a new world, in which no one dies young, in which everyone is in the position to build a house for themselves and to live there.

The prophecy doesn't reject the present world so as to base hope merely in a distant future, along the lines "this world may be hopeless, but it will pass away, and I will create another." The hope is related not principally to the future, but to God, whose fidelity and love is greater than all disasters and all evil.

Many centuries later, many persons still suffer from injustice and the consequences of the forces of nature. There is still much hatred, injustice and destruction in the world. Yet what was promised to God's people can also be seen today. Where men and women trust that the victory belongs to love and goodness, and in this hope champion the winning cause, take courage to do their best to further it, we find a participation here and now in the promised new world, a gleam of this tremendous hope even in the midst of darkness.

Homily on 4th Sunday of Lent, year A

March 22, 2020

Light of the World

Are the Chinese responsible for the outbreak of the Coronavirus that is making such a stir and is bringing so much suffering and uncertainty? Or the governments?

Similarly the disciples ask: „Who is responsible for this man’s blindness? It can only be the result of sin? Is he guilty, or his parents?”

It is human and normal to ask the question, why did that happen?

In the encounter with the man born blind, Jesus focuses not on the past, bot on the future. He is not blind, because something was, but that something happen: so that healing take place, to show that whatever happens, God is with us a God of the living, as light in the world. Jesus does not pose the question of guilt, but of purpose and meaning: what meaning can we find or bring into the situation?

This is a an encouraging word and an invitation for us, when we feel unsettled in the face of risks to health or one’s financial situation? As he was present to the man born blind, so he is with us in this uncertain situation. Jesus gave the blind man bodily, but also, and even more, spiritual vision, let him perceive God’s intervention in history in recognizing Jesus as a prophet. God wills to open our eyes, too, to see and create meaning in the present happenings.

The new corona sickness may bring suffering and various worries. Many have relatives who are particularly at risk or are themselves at risk, some are out of a job or worry about keeping their job.

The sickness and its spreading is however also an occasion to rethink various things, on the political level, such as globalization and the foundation, but also with a vew to our daily life.

We experience and show much solidarity precisely in these present times, the willingness to sacrifice to protect or to help others. And we may take joy and consolation in this. God is at work here, too.

It was hope for healing that moved the blind man to obey Jesus’s command, to go and wash himself. The hope that fills our hearts, springing from faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the victory over death itself, can help us to keep a positive, even confident and joyful attitude. In our daily work that continues, in taking various precautions, in helping others in this time, we have confidence: the LORD is with us, in HIM is our hope and our salvation. Let us encourage and enhearten one another with this hope. Some things we have to bear, but we can and should see various positive aspects of the changes and developments taking place.

Let us remain in contact with one another, and let us pray for one another, that Jesus, the light of the world, enlighten our communion and this present time.

2020-03-21 – Hope and conversion

"Come, let us return to the LORD, it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence."

Today's reading from the book of Hosea express hope and a call to conversion. The LORD will heal, both from external wounds of war, hunger, sickness, but also and above all does he desire to heal us from the interior wounds of selfishness, greed, incosiderateness. " it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

The prophet's words are for us, too. We are going through a difficult time, but go through it with the hope, indeed the conviction that the wounds and the suffering will be healed.

The time is not stolen from us, just given us a different manner. It is a time to rethink various customs and habits, a time to trust one another and to trust in God, a time to show love through voluntary or obligatory self-denial, a time to hear God's voice: "Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD." In short, it is a special Lent, a time of hope-filled preparation for the new life of resurrection.

When this time has passed, as it will pass, we may mourn over some events and struggle with various upsets in our patterns of life, but we shall also see that this time, in its one way, was a fruitful time of reflection and conversion, a time to learn love anew. And the time will be more fruitful to the extent that we don't only stick it out, but accept it and use it, as a special time given to us.

2020-03-20 – Love and Happiness

Much has changed in the past few days, in Austria and in many other countries. We’ve had to hold back in many areas, while in others (hospitals, food supplies, personnel management, emergency services, etc.) work has become much more intense? To what purpose? In many areas we cut back out of love of neighbor, in order to protect others, as ourselves, from infection. In other areas more work is done, also in the service of love of neighbor, who have basic needs even in crisis situations.

What has true value?

If the current situation is unaccustomed and, in some respects, uncomfortable and unsettling, we can still use it to reflect on what is truly important, what makes us truly happy, what is truly meaningful?

When I moved from Zillingdorf to Vienna last year, I used the occasion to clean out various things I don’t really need, that had and have some value but that taken as a whole were just to much. The coming weeks and months can be for all of us a time of reflection and rethinking, in our own household or family, country and in the whole world. Many things are good, but does it really make sense, to build the economy on the basis of unending growth? Do we have to get in the car and drive to the mountains or lake, in order to get some exercise and enjoy nature?

Love of God and Neighbor

Jesus takes up and confirms the Mosaic Law: „You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and soul, with all your thoughts and with all your strength… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these two.” (Mk 12,30-31) Might the events and changes, even the concerns of these days, be an occasion to focus more on this fundamental aim and outlook?

This is not simply moralizing or preaching, it’s a matter of our happiness, just as that is the goal of the commandments themselves. What makes us truly happy? Travelling for vacation, the ability to consume fresh fruit from all over the world at any season of the year, the concerts, etc.? Or is it rather attentiveness for one another and concern for another, solidarity and cooperation, everything that we summarize in the short word “love”?

We will make it through this time, and we may, I hope we come out with a greater love for life itself, for the simple things in life, a greater love for god and our neighbor, and a greater awareness, that that is what counts most in life.

Cancelling Public Masses, Natural and Political Justice

In the past weeks, ever more dioceses around the world have cancelled Masses either in conformity with civil law forbidding public gatherings, or on their own initative to help slow down the spread of the new corona virus SARS-CoV-2. Among not a few faithful churchgowers, this step has been hard to accept. Some have criticized it, on the grounds that, in the face of hardshpis, threats to man's physical health, and the like, the faithful need the sacraments and the public prayer of the Church MORE, not less, and that, in the past, when the Church was more conscious of its spiritual mission, this was its response to epidemics. This article by Msgr. Charles Pope, and this one by Fr. Jerry Pokorsky are fairly representative of the arguments made.

Some good responses have been made, such as Steve Skojec's or Rebecca Weiss's articles

Here I don't want to get into the details, but rather look more closely at the substance of the argument that cancelling public Masses can be reasonable and indeed obligatory, by reason of natural justice that prohibits risking the health of others without their consent except for a proportionate good in the same order. One might, legitimately, risk one's own health to some extent for the sake of spiritual goods (though even this can easily be excessive), one may not, except by way of just punishment, do bodily harm or induce grave risk of bodily harm to another merely for the sake of spiritual benefit.

The argument has two basic premises:

The minor premise: The gathering together of persons at Mass, even after taking the precautions that are in the power of church authorities (and even after taking the precautions that are in the power of each individual), poses a grave risk in the mid-term to the health and life of persons who have not chosen to accept this risk for the sake of spiritual benefit.
It is NOT merely a matter of the risk posed to those attending Mass; if that were to be the case, it might well be enough, at least in some cases, to ensure that those attending Mass are informed of the risk they are taking. The risk is that, as COVID-19 is infectious even before the onset of symptoms, one or more persons could be infected with COVID-19, quite possibly even without having any symptoms yet, and infect others present at Mass, and that these others will in turn infect others NOT present at Mass.

Note: If a similar risk would be present whether or not gatherings at Mass occur, the risk could not properly be attributed to the celebration of public Masses. So, if no other steps were being taken to mitigate the spread of the virus and sickness, the Mass probably could not be considered a great additional risk. The greater that steps are taken in other contexts to minimize risk of infection, the greater significance will the risk involved in the celebration of public Mass have.

The major premise: To cause grave risk to the health of persons who have not consented to accept this risk, except for the sake of bodily health or countering a greater risk of bodily harm, is contrary to natural justice and the fifth commandment.

Therefore, given the stated circumstances, for persons to come together for Mass is contrary to natural justice.

In some cases, such as in Italy or Germany, public Masses have been forbidden by political authorities. At least abstractly, the political authority, rather than the Church, is the competent authority to determine what means are required in relation to the end of bodily health of its citizens, and in this sense, given that the law is fair, not imposing an undue burden on one group as a means to the end (for example, prohibiting Masses but allowing sport events), the State does have competence to make such statutes. Of course if the state were to abuse its authority by imposing manifestly unreasonable statutes, neither the Church nor individuals would be bound to obey them. But given that the laws or statutes are in themselves reasonable or plausibly so, the Church does right, as a rule, follow them.

19.03.2020 – St. Joseph — quiet and steadfast

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, a man of whom no words are recorded in tradition, a man who quietly listens to God's voice and does with resolve that to which the Holy Spirit moved him and was necessary to protect his family. Scarcely had the joy of Jesus's birth come, Joseph heard the prophecy made to Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart. How difficult must it have been for him to hear such words! He heard from an angel in a dream, that the child's life was in danger and that they should flee to Egypt. In all of this St. Joseph remained steadfast.

Today we may feel particularly close to St. Joseph and can learn much from him. Day-to-day life is quieter, as many activities can't or shouldn't take place. We ourselves make have more leisure to focus on what is essential, to give more heed to distinguish what is truly important from what is superfluous, give up many things that formerly claimed our attention. That can itself be rather strenuous: some persons are already feeling cabin fever… but this new "emptiness" and quiet in society and in our own life can also be a chance to listen to our dreams, to our heart, and above all, to God Himself.

We also experience, as St. Joseph did, much that pains and worries us. At present the spread of the corona virus is all over the news, because it is already impacting our lives here and now and the measures being taken to save human lives may have an even more dramatic effect if we or our neighbors lose our jobs; at the same time the countless other things have not ceased to be cause for concern, the multitudes fleeing from war, terror or starvation, various natural disasters such as the extended fires in the Amazon and Australia, etc. St. Joseph can here be a model for us of remaining steadfast in the midst of many challenges, not talking a lot and making a fuss, but simply doing what it is in our power to do, and trusting in God for the rest.