Let me adapt to recent circumstances a thought-experiment theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar proposed decades ago: Imagine that a friend contracts a severe case of COVID-19 and medicine can do no more for him. The doctors inform his widowed mother and us, so we gather with her for the final scene in the drama of this life. The ventilator is removed; the man grows weaker from lack of breath and whispers his final farewells. We hear the death-rattle. Then he expires and takes on the pallor of death.
There is no need to belabor the awfulness of the year of lockdowns, shutdowns, and other downers that began in mid-March 2020. Among the failures that will bear serious scrutiny going forward are those of inept local governments.
On February 25, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives could have addressed any number of pressing issues. The nation was in its 11th month of a pandemic that had already caused enormous economic and social dislocation. Schools remained closed as evidence mounted that online learning was disserving vulnerable poor children. Civil unrest continued in cities whose local governments refused to maintain public order.
As the names Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom suggest, the middle centuries of the first millennium, the era of the Church Fathers, were the golden age of the Catholic episcopate.
According to the movie “Love Story,” “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Typical Hollywood fluff, you might say. Yet the best answer to that asininity was given by a Hollywood all-star, the late, great Charlton Heston. Asked the secret of what would become his 64-year marriage to Lydia, he replied, “Learning to say five words: ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong.’”
All lives are consequential, for every human being is an idea of God’s, and everyone is a someone for whom the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, entered history, suffered, died — and was raised from the dead to display within history a new, glorified humanity.
Ten years ago, I began a most extraordinary Lent by walking up the Aventine Hill to the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the first day of the Roman station church pilgrimage — an eight-week journey that led to the book “Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches,” co-authored with my friend Elizabeth Lev and my son, Stephen.
Thirty years ago, on January 22, 1991, Pope John Paul II’s eighth encyclical, Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer), was published. In a pontificate so rich in ideas that its teaching has only begun to be digested, Redemptoris Missio stands out as a blueprint for the Catholic future.
In his encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” Pope St. John Paul II invited Catholics to “rekindle” our sense of “Eucharistic amazement,” for “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church” — Christ’s glorified, abiding presence with, in, and through his people, fulfilling his promise to remain with us “to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The list of grave issues that must be addressed during a future papal interregnum, and by the cardinal-electors in a conclave, continues to grow.