Coronavirus: The Reality We Need to Face

There is a lot of panic about the coronavirus as it spreads its way across the world.  Some of this fear is understandable and rational.  One’s bodily health and one’s life are goods that one is naturally attached to.  There is a natural desire to preserve one’s life and health.  Adopting some precautions is reasonable.  

Now, the coronavirus has made people more aware of the prospect of death. But has it made people aware of the reality of death?  We all know that if we do not die of the coronavirus, eventually we will die of something else.  We understand that death is inevitable. Yet, it appears that this crisis is leading few to a better understanding what death actually is, and what it means for us.

It is not death itself that is so feared. If it were, as it is meant to be for us, but a mere modification of the conditions of our actual existence, it would carry no terrors with it.  But if a man knows perfectly well that his mode of living here and now, his thoughts, his ideals, aspirations, affections, pursuits, tastes, have nothing in common with what must be the tastes, ideals, aspirations – in a word – with the mental outlook characteristic of the blissful world beyond the tomb, then he is naturally filled with fear.’  – Fr Edward Leen, ‘Why the Cross?’

One’s existence does not end with death.  We have an immortal soul which lives on into eternity. This is not just a Catholic belief.  One can come to this realisation by purely using reason as philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato did.  Most people have some vague sense of this reality. As Fr Leen points out, it is this fear of what happens after death that really terrifies us. The greatest result of the coronavirus would be to wake people up to the reality of eternal life so that they would really examine their current way of living. 

‘Death Comes to the Banquet Table’ by Giovanni Martellini (circa 1630)

In these modern times, we try our hardest to distract ourselves from the thought of death. We try to find numerous ways to fend it off.  Yet, it is still there, and it won’t go away.  We may leave a legacy and people may have memories of us but sooner or later, we must leave this life and enter the next.  At some stage, in our lives, perhaps during some festivities it will make itself known to us. We are obliged to acknowledge it no matter how much it may shock or irritate us, and we should do what is reasonable to hang on to respond to its presence. But, as we were but pilgrims in this short existence, is it not more reasonable to prepare for the most important occasion in our lives, i.e. the time our soul leaves our body?  This is the approach that any reasonable person should take.  It is in direct contrast to the spirit of the world that tells us to focus on the here and now and forget about death.  As Bishop Fulton Sheen points out, ‘The pagan tries to ignore death, but each tick of the clock brings him nearer to it through fear and anxiety.  The Christian begins his life by contemplating his death; knowing that he will die, he plans his life accordingly, in order to enjoy eternal life…The Christian principle for conquering death is twofold: (1) Think about death. (2) Rehearse for it by mortification now.’ Many people in Ireland today act like the pagan throughout most of their lives.  Death is ignored or brushed aside.  Then, something like the coronavirus comes along and suddenly the potential of death springs into their awareness.  Yet, this awareness is so superficial, and, for the majority, it does not lead to a contemplation of the reality of death or a preparation for eternal life.  In our clamour to avoid death, we ignore what death actually is. 

What Would The Saints Do?

St Francis of Assisi

Death and ill-health and accident and grief cannot be banished by any human formula, and the weaknesses attendant on human nature, sloth and self-indulgence, envy and hatred, can be eradicated only be each man taking up his cross and conquering himself.’ – Fr M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’

St Catherine of Siena

I have written in other places how the saints are great examples to us of how to live our lives. Now, many famous saints are depicted with skulls in their portraits.  This includes St Jerome, St Aloysius, St Catherine of Siena and St Francis of Assisi.  They kept these skulls as a vivid reminder of death. It was part of the Catholic practice of ‘memento mori’, a Latin term, meaning ‘remembrance of death’. The thought of death was ever before them so they could plan their earthly lives accordingly.  It reminded them of the need to take up their cross and conquer themselves. The coronavirus is a stark reminder of death. It challenges us, especially Catholics, to respond. 

But how should we respond? By following the example of the pagans around us and trying to avoid death while ignoring what it means? Or do we do what we reasonably can to mind our health while making sure most of our effort is focused on contemplating death and preparing for its inevitable arrival (whenever that might be)?  How often do we think about our own death and all that will mean? How often do we pray for the grace of a holy death?  How often do we think about the judgement that awaits us?  If any good can come out of the coronavirus it will involve the sparking of these questions in people’s minds.  The lockdowns that are happening all over the world give time for people to stop and think as they are not caught up in work or not able to get to the pub or social events.  Hopefully, there is only so much 24/7 coronavirus news that people can stand before they switch it off and really think about the significance of all that is happening around them.  Perhaps then, there may be a little light that gets in and instead of thinking about the various ways they will make sure they stay alive, they will start thinking about how prepared they are to meet their Creator.

‘To live to God we must die to sin, and this death to sin cannot be achieved without its own passion. It was through the Cross that the world was redeemed – it remains that by the Cross and the Cross only, personally borne and endured, each individual enters fully into the redemption and is sanctified.  Self must die in order that God may reign in undisputed sway in us.  In that lies the whole explanation of suffering in life. It is only over the hilltop of Calvary that we make our way into the brightness and splendour and glowing life of the Garden of the Resurrection.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’ 

The Real Virus:

The real virus is the one that zaps the truth about life and death from our mind. It is the virus that makes us forget about the universal realities and our last end. It is one that encourages us on the path to self-destruction and blinds us.  It is a virus that causes untold misery and unhappiness. It has its toxic allurements, its hedonistic distractions and its tempting false gods.  This virus hates the truth and those that speak and live it.  It has become so prevalent that the vast majority of people are infected by it. It has caused amnesia and the forgetting of the purpose of life.  It is a virus of error, falsehoods and lies.  It is more corruptive and destructive than the coronavirus or any other virus as it is a virus that affects our soul, not just our body.  If we are cleansed of this virus before our death, we will truly live. If we are not cleansed, we would be better off if we had never existed.

Sin is un-love, and it is therefore dead and death-dealing like a corpse.  The least sin is a more devastating agent of dissolution and corruption to the soul of man than ever plague in history has been to his body.  The Church does not use exaggeration when she says that no material disaster can be compared in magnitude of evil to the effect of one deliberate venial sin.’ – Fr R. H. J. Steurt, ‘The World Intangible’

While the coronavirus is getting 24/7 coverage across the world, this virus, sin, which is far more deadly and more contagious than any plague, is barely heard about as it goes about infecting more and more people.  There are no warnings about it from those who should be speaking about it, e.g. the pope, and the government is not closing businesses that promote it to protect us from it, e.g. many abortion facilities have stayed open.  Neither are they implementing new laws to protect people from it or sending out guidelines telling us how to operate around those who have it.  Yet, it is the most dangerous and contagious disease known to man.  Over the last number of years the Irish government have given this virus free rein and promoted it so it will infect as many people as possible.  God, have mercy on those that have encouraged so many on the road to perdition! It is this virus that will truly define our lives and it is this one that we should be constantly trying our hardest to avoid. 

 ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.’ (Ezechiel 33:11)

Now, there is a cure to this virus. It is one that is freely and lovingly given to those who desire it. Part of it involves becoming familiar, like the saints, with the true understanding of death.  It involves reflecting on this regularly. So, let us do this and try to put things in their proper order. As Fr Boylan, in his excellent book, ‘This Tremendous Lover’, says, ‘Once the supernatural is admitted to be the one thing necessary, the natural must cede to it.  Natural standards, ideals or purposes must be laid aside, and things must be judged and arranged from the supernatural point of view.’ Let us make sure that we do not die contaminated with the virus of sin.  Remember that the health of your soul is far more important than the health of your body. So, in all of this madness, do what you reasonably can to take care of your health but make sure you do all you can to prepare yourself for death. 

God bless

‘2+2=4’?

“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
George Orwell, ‘1984’

A sketch of modern psychological services (particularly those provided by the Psychological Society of Ireland):

Psychologist: Nice to meet, please take a seat

Person: Thanks, nice to meet you too

Psych: Well, I see you’ve filled out the assessment form and signed the short information acknowledging you understand the service. My job is to help you to find peace of mind and to help you to understand why you are thinking in certain ways. I am trained in many different types of psychotherapy. I will try to be as gentle as possible but I may challenge you where it seems appropriate.  This is only done to help you so you can increase your happiness.  I’m also going to write a few notes on my pad here so I can get a clear picture of what’s going on for you. Is this OK by you?

Person: Yeah, that’s grand.

Psych: I see you are based here in Dublin now but are from Longford originally? How are you finding it up here?

Person: Ah yeah, it’s alright, I’m up here about a year now, bit busier than back home, miss the peace of the countryside but I’m meeting new people up here and work is going alright so it’s grand.  

Psych: Yeah, I can imagine it’s a bit different up here than down in Longford. So let us see where to begin (scanning through the assessment form). I see that you mention that you are very anxious at times. Let’s begin there.  Please explain a bit about that to me. 

Person: Well, ya know, I’m just feeling on edge a lot of the time.  I’m trying to make sense of the world we are living in. My head seems a bit fried. I’ve tried all sorts of ways of coping but they ain’t working so I decided to come along here as, ya know, I’ve heard it’s good to talk and all that.

Psych: OK, OK, sounds like you are struggling at the moment and you are trying to make sense of it all.  And yeah, it’s always good to talk. That’s what this service is here for.  So how long have you had this anxiety?

Person: Well, it’s started fairly recently. I just feel like either I’m going mad or the world has gone mad over the last year.  I’m trying to keep in tune with reality and keep myself grounded but I just can’t seem to cope at times.

Psych: OK, yeah the world is a crazy place at times and it’s hard to cope with the pace of life, especially if you are used to a quieter pace. Now, when you say, ‘reality’, what do you mean by that?

Person: Well, umm…you know like just trying to keep focused on the everyday stuff, not getting caught up in all the misinformation and fake news out there in the world

Psych: Yeah, it’s a tricky environment at times to operate it in. It’s hard to find ways to cope with the constant news coming our way and figure things out.

Person: Yeah, that’s it, like I’m trying to live my life in accordance with the truth, ya know, and sometimes I just feel that no one is telling the truth and that what we are seeing and hearing is just lies and manipulation.  Like I don’t know anymore, sometimes I think I’m being paranoid and some people have told me that I’m paranoid so maybe it’s me. Like sometimes I’m just like ‘I give up’ and can’t be bothered even trying to figure it out

Psych: OK, sounds like you are trying to filter out what is fact from fiction, that’s good. It is better to live a life in accordance with the reality we find ourselves in. Sounds like it is all a bit much for you at times and you are trying to stay in tune with reality but that’s not always easy to do so.

Person: Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. Like, I’ve tried the whole drink thing to escape reality and that didn’t really work. I then tried distracting myself with gambling, then porn but I knew I still had to face reality at some stage. It’s just hard at the moment as I’ve no one to talk to about how I’m feeling so I decided to come along here to try to sort out my head

Psych: OK, that’s good. It sounds like you are trying to reconnect with reality and the present moment rather than constantly distracting yourself with drink or quick fixes.  That’s what this service is here for, trying to help you live peacefully and serenely in our current crazy environment. So how are you finding life without these distractions?

Person: Well, ya know, difficult at times. Like one minute I’m thinking, the world has gone crazy and is getting crazier.  Like just there yesterday I heard a news report saying that a lot of people are saying 2+2 doesn’t equal 4.  But then the next day, I’m like, maybe I’m not seeing something and maybe I’m the one cracking up.  Like even some of my friends are now saying 2+2 may not equal 4 and they are saying that I’m not with the times and all this sort of thing. It’s just fierce confusing and my head is melted by it all.

Psych: Oh, that’s interesting.  Tell me who do you think these people are that are pushing this 2+2 may not equal 4 idea?

Person:  Well, ya know, I’ve been trying to make sense of it all and now, I don’t want to sound paranoid or like some crazy conspiracy theorist but it really seems like there are like, there are people in high places, pushing this ‘2+2 may not equal 4’ agenda. Like I don’t know why people can’t just see that ‘2+2=4’.

Psych: That’s interesting (writing on notepad: ‘paranoid?’). So look I’m not going to take a position on this ‘2+2=4’ issue as it is a contentious one at the moment but I’ll act as a screen that you can bounce your thoughts off and I’ll pose some challenging questions here and there. Kind of like the devil’s advocate. This will help you to come to an understanding about your own thought processes. Sound good?

Person: Yeah, I suppose, if that’s what you think would help.

Psych: Yeah I’m sure it will. So first off, how do you know that 2+2 equals 4?

Person: Isn’t it just common sense? It’s just obvious, like.

Psych: Maybe it’s not so obvious to all and we can’t always rely on what is deemed common sense. Wasn’t it the great philosopher, Voltaire, who said, ‘Common sense is not so common’. Now, when you say it is obvious do you mean that most people believe 2+2=4?

Person: Well, no, it seems that the majority of people say they don’t know if 2+2 equals 4

Psych: So the common opinion is we don’t know if 2+2=4 but you believe that you have more insight than the majority of people?

Person: Well, yeah I think so but yeah know, as I said, I’m just confused by it as there are so many people saying 2+2 may not equal 4. 

Psych: (Writing ‘narcissist?’ on notepad) How do you know you are right on this issue? Have you had many discussions with people about this issue?

Person: Well, sometimes, but it is hard to talk about. I’m not so good at explaining things to people so I end getting angry sometimes as I just can’t see why people can’t see what seems so obvious to me

Psych: Do you get angry often?

Person: Well, more so lately.  There are times like when I’m sure 2+2=4. I just want to wake people up to it.  Like I just want to shake people sometimes. 

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘anti-social’?) Sounds like this is a very emotive issue for you?

Person: Yeah, that’s what some of my new friends are saying to me.  They are just telling me to relax about it as it’s not a big deal whether 2+2=4 or not.  Eventually they got sick of talking to me about it so I don’t mention it anymore so I ended up coming here to try to sort this all out.

Psych: Well, it’s good that you came here. So let’s try to break this down.

Person: OK

Psych: So I can see this 2+2=4 issue is a big issue for you so let’s see why that is so.  First off, let’s look at it objectively and rationally. So you believe that 2+2=4.  Can you be absolutely certain 2+2=4?

Person: Well, like, I was certain at one stage but I’m not 100 per cent sure about it now. I’ve tried to question myself on this. I know everyone else seems to believe that 2+2 may not equal 4 so I was initially thinking that I was the one with the problem, that it was my mind that wasn’t working right. But I spoke to my mam and dad and they still believe 2+2=4 and they have helped me to see that I’m thinking straight. 

Psych: How old are your mam and dad?

Person: Both are around 70

Psych: You have a good relationship with them?

Person: It’s not bad

Psych: So your parents, they would have grown up in an era when everyone thought 2+2=4 and they are reassuring you that 2+2 still equals 4 despite the majority now telling you that this may not be true?

Person: Well, yeah I think that they are trying to help me to keep in touch with reality. They can see that I’m struggling. 

Psych: Sounds like your parents are really trying to help you and no doubt with the best intentions as well. But I’m just wondering, did your parents often tell you that 2+2=4 when you were young?

Person: Well, not really, I remember saying that 2+2 may not equal 4 to them one time when I was a teenager after I watched a talk by a distinguished professor on YouTube and they corrected me on it.   

Psych: Corrected you? What do you mean by that?

Person: Well, like my father told me to cop on and not to be foolish

Psych: And how did that feel when he said that to you?

Person: Well, I felt a bit annoyed but like… I think he was right

Psych: (writing on notepad: ‘verbal abuse in childhood’?) You had a lot of respect for your father?  You looked up to him?

Person: Yeah, he was a decent man, bit reserved and not always around as he was busy working but yeah I respected him

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘neglect?’) But he wanted you to think like him or have the same beliefs as you?

Person: Well, yeah sort of, I suppose

Psych: You mentioned that he called you foolish and this left you feeling upset and annoyed when you said that ‘2+2 may not equal 4’. Did he ever get angry with you when you challenged him?

Person: Well, not so much on the 2+2= 4 thing as that was a once off thing but sometimes he would threaten me with the wooden spoon if I did or said something wrong. Think I got a smack of it maybe, once. Didn’t do me any harm, like.

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘physical abuse but passing it off as ‘normal’). Still it sounds tough. It seems like he struggled to accept your individuality and your questioning of conventional thinking at times. It seems like he was trying to control you in many ways and he didn’t accept your different way of thinking about the world. Were you ever afraid of your father?

Person: Well, sometimes, as a kid, I’d be a bit fearful of his reaction, especially if I was in trouble in school or something like that or if I said a bad word or if I annoyed my mother

Psych: So he was pretty controlling at times?  Tried to make you see the world his way?

Person: Yeah, I suppose, sometimes he would be hard on me and he did have some beliefs that I couldn’t get onboard with it but look, I don’t think he was that bad

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘defensive about father/father as God complex’?) Your father probably did the best he could considering the circumstances. It is not about blaming anyone here but do you mind if I throw out a hypothesis on what I think could be the root of the problems you are experiencing?

Person: Yeah, sure, go ahead.

Psych: Well, see, I’ve been doing this job for 25 years.  I’ve met people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. I often have people coming into my office with certain worldviews, or what we in the psychotherapeutic field call ‘schemas’.  One thing that I try to do is to help people understand how they have come to think in certain ways and why they hold on to certain beliefs.  Often, people come from tough family backgrounds where they experience physical and verbal abuse and where they are forced to comply with the belief their parents, especially their father, has.  Often, in these families, people grow up under, what we call in psychological research, an authoritarian father figure, who is emotionally distant and who doesn’t know how to communicate with them. These types of fathers use their position of power to force their traditional beliefs on their children.  As I said, I’m not looking to blame anyone here as these types of fathers often pick up this type of behavior from their own fathers. Do you follow so far?

Person: Yeah, I see what you’re saying.

Psych: Now, it seems to me you experienced some of this in your childhood and I’m guessing that this helps to explain why you believe so strongly that ‘2+2=4’. It is born out of a fear of the authoritarian father figure you experienced as you grew up and it is probably reinforced by the small country town that you grew up in, which reemphasized this restrictive ‘2+2=4’ mentality.  I think that this explains much of the anxiety you are experiencing currently as you have moved away from the small town and the ‘2+2=4’ mentality. You are now meeting new friends and are beginning to see that you don’t need to think in that narrow way anymore but are free to finally think for yourself rather than have traditional views imposed on you.  But it’s tricky for you as this 2+2=4 mentality has been beaten into you. Now, when you come up against people who challenge you on this 2+2=4 mentality, you unconsciously follow the example of your father who pushed back forcibly so as to protect these traditional ideas.  Does this make sense to you?

Person: Well, that makes some sense but I still can’t shake off the feeling that 2+2 does really equal 4.  Like I’m not the only one thinks like this and I know other people that think like me.

Psych: Who are these other people?

Person: Well, some friends, my parents, as I said. 

Psych: Have any of them done any research into whether ‘2+2=4’?

Person: Well, no, that’s just the way they’ve always thought…, they just think… It’s common sense that 2+2=4

Psych: Well, it may have been the common view years ago but as we begin to know more about the world and the human mind sometimes what was once seen as dogmas are no longer seen as such. Now, look, I’m not saying 2+2 does not equal 4 but I think that it is worth analyzing why you hold on to this opinion so strongly. See, believing 2+2=4 may have given your parents some stability or assurance about life as they struggled along in it. They lived in harder time and needed more stability. It’s not easy to change one’s thinking especially when it is something someone really believes in, has grown up believing and has emotional investment in.  Look, there is some new research coming out suggesting that 2+2 may not equal 4. Would you consider checking it out?

Person: Yeah, I suppose I can do, I don’t want to be narrow minded. But look, I’m a bit confused now. It seems like my head is more mixed up now than it was when I came into the office

Psych: Well, that’s actually OK, you are grappling with new information. It is a sign of what we in the psychological field call, ‘cognitive dissonance’. It is just a process where the mind is grappling with information that is contrary to old information. It is a good sign really as it shows that you are open to this new information and that your mind is willing to open up and assimilate this information.  That’s what I’m here for, to give you this space to wrestle with this new information and ease the anxiety you are experiencing. This will eventually lead to peace of mind.    

Person: Well, look I don’t really know what to believe anymore. I just want some answers. What you said seems to make sense when I reflect on it. I mean I suppose it’s good to talk out these issues anyway, maybe I should look at my childhood experiences a bit more.

Psych: Yeah, it’s always good to talk and I hope I can provide a listening ear for you.  I can see that you are really trying to overcome your anxiety.  I believe that your childhood experiences, where you weren’t allowed to think for yourself, are influencing some of your anxiety and this is still playing out today in your life.  We can explore that further at the next session. How about we meet again in two weeks time? 

Person: Yeah, I think I do have some childhood stuff to work through and maybe I’m a bit obsessed with this whole 2+2=4 business due to it.  Yeah, two weeks sound good, let’s do that.

Psych: In the meantime, just try to find some practical strategies so you can relax about the whole 2+2=4 thing. Look, it’s really not that important in the grand scheme of things. Just try to enjoy each moment, be present and practice deep breathing. That will help with the anxiety.  Also try to avoid arguments with people over this issue. Just count to ten if you feel anger or anxiety rising in you when someone says that 2+2 does not equal four or just change the subject to something lighter or more entertaining when the conversation does come up.

Person: Alright, thanks, I’ll try that, sounds good.

Psych: Yeah, no problem, glad I could help, see you in two weeks.

END

Note: Replace ‘2+2=4’ with any number of scientific or Catholic truths, e.g. on ‘gender’, abortion or homosexuality, and you will see how dangerous psychological services are for those struggling to make sense of it all in our current times.