A few observations as summer hits its peak:
If you think we have it rough, consider Saint Bridget of Sweden, whose feast day was Thursday.
In 1349 Bridget set out across Europe on a pilgrimage to Rome just as bubonic plague — the Black Death — was hitting the northern reaches of Europe (having already decimated the southern and central parts).
Consider that this wave of bubonic plague killed two-thirds of Norway — two out of three! — and a third of the Swedish population (in the U.S., covid-19 has thus far killed 136,000, or roughly one of every 2,500).
The journey would have been across countrysides where corpses littered byways, in some locales stacked like cordwood, with not even wolves wanting to have anything to do with them. Entire monasteries, convents, and pastoral offices were wiped out.
Bridget was making the journey in the place of Sweden’s King Magnus, whom she served as an advisor and who declined to make the pilgrimage himself. The saint interpreted defeats in a crusade against Denmark as a sign of God’s wrath against Magnus for his wastefulness and ostentation and had urged him to take advantage of the forthcoming holy year (1350) by going to Rome for an indulgence.
“Thus saith the Son of God: I will visit this kingdom with the sword and lance and with wrath,” she quoted the Lord as conveying to her. “In vain do they say, “Let us do as it pleaseth us, life is short, God is merciful. He will do us no evil!’ Hearken to what I now say to thee. I will rise up in all My power and will not spare either young or old, rich or poor, just or unjust. I will come with my plough and pull up the trees by the roots, so that where there before were a thousand people only a hundred will be left, and their houses shall stand empty.”
Like other European rulers, Magnus was utterly powerless to prevent the annihilating power of the plague.
And if you think there are problems and controversies in the modern Church, consider what it was like back in Bridget’s time — during the plague:
At one point there were three popes.
The most legitimate papacy had moved from Rome to Avignon, France, but there it became notorious for its materialism, nepotism, clerical scandals, and self-enrichment. Saint Bridget spent years imploring the Pope to return to Rome. When she herself got there, the Eternal City was in sorry shape not only from disease but because of an earthquake. (Heed ye this!)
From a spiritual vantage point, there are endless ironies with the covid-19 outbreak.
Here’s Bloomberg News Wednesday:
“The most dangerous activities are places where people are talking loudly in a crowded indoor setting for a long time — bars, parties, concerts, indoor sporting events, indoor religious services and so on. Offices, gyms, hair salons and indoor restaurants are somewhat dangerous.
“New lockdowns, therefore, should focus on banning only the highest-risk activities. Bars, clubs and other drinking establishments should be closed through the end of the year. This will hit local businesses hard, so Congress should create a bailout fund specifically for bars and similar establishments. Similarly, indoor sporting, music and theater should be halted for the duration of the epidemic, and companies that rely on these should be bailed out accordingly.”
That’s how important they became — the United States has to bail out bars? No one knows what Jesus would have said because there were no bars along the Sea of Galilee or in Jerusalem but it doesn’t take a long stretch to picture Him overturning barstools.
In our time we have only microcosmic manifestations of that, but they are growing, the signs aplenty (if, like Saint Bridget, we believe in signs, which we do here).
Interesting, at least in a visual sense, to see the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower struck the other night by thick bolts of purplish lightning, while across the river in Queens lightning caused fire to break out at a church called Spirit and Truth.
We can say: both are in short supply, spirit and truth. Let us remember that it is the truth, not propaganda, not wishful thinking, not diatribe, and not anger, that sets us free.
Maybe we need to ask the Holy Spirit more often where the truth resides.
View facts from varied sources before reaching discernments.
Be careful about labeling people and jumping to conclusions. (Haste makes waste and also speaks of sloth.)
Speaking of signs, when an earthquake hit Richmond, Virginia, in 2011, it caused cracks in the Washington Monument, closing to tourists for more than a year. Before it reopened the next year came Hurricane Sandy — which swamped Liberty Island in New York and caused its closure for (also) a year. Meanwhile, we think before that to Federal Hall in New York, where collapse of the Twin Towers created fissures in its foundation.
Federal Hall is where the Bill of Rights was formulated and where Washington took his oath of office.
What do we fathom from all this? What would Saint Bridget have indicated? Can we finally step back from all the noise and meditate on what exactly has been and is indicated?
It’s been a long while since Hale-Bopp, but there was a new comet to view earlier this month, officially known as C/2020 F3, but usually (and mercifully) just referred to as Neowise: a three-mile-wide chunk of ice and dust on a 6,000-year loop around the solar system. It was also quite visible yesterday.
Some think a potentially devastating asteroid called Apophis could hit in 2029 (perhaps more accurately, 2036), though NASA rules that out.
When it comes to vaccines, we have to differ with Rome, which for a decade or two has determined that even if a vaccine is derived from a line of stem cells that originated with an aborted baby, it is allowed — permissible — for the greater good.
That’s for each person and family to determine. In the decision-making process must be considered the pro-life aspects of a vaccine: that however it was derived, it may save many lives. But also: the fact that evil imparts evil, that a stem-cell line that comes from a baby aborted decades ago may bequeath a profoundly negative spiritual effect.
Many matters to pray about in our time.
What would Saint Bridget do?