How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the cities
has become a vassal.
She weeps bitterly in the night,
tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies. (Lamentations 1:1-2)
Here is a piece detailing the reaction of the Freak Show to calls for bare minimum human decency in the midst of a plague that has killed nearly a million Americans and is now in its fourth wave. It is aptly titled “America, This is You. Grow the Hell Up“. It could more accurately titled, “American Conservative Christianity, This is You. Grow up, for Christ’s Sake”. And I mean that literally: for the sake of Jesus Christ:
“A real life look at each of you, to capture all that style,” goes the theme song to the beloved ABC found-footage tragicomedy America’s Funniest Home Videos. “You’re the red, white and blue, oh the funny things you do,” the peppy singer sings, as the squirrel frightens the baby or Grandma face-plants into the birthday cake. And then finally, cruelly, peppily, as the puppy escapes the bath or the party on the dock goes ka-bloop into the lake, “America, America: this is you.”
The camera really can reveal our truest selves. It’s a mirror, often a harsh one under unflattering light. This has perhaps never been truer than last night, outside a school board meeting in Williamson County, Tennessee, as a mask mandate was reinstated for elementary school students, teachers, and bus drivers. Take a good look, because America, America: this is you.
“You have a place in Hell,” screams a furious young man at a health official, voice raw from what must have been a long time of furious screaming. “You will never be allowed in public again.” “We know who you are, you can leave freely but we will find you,” an older guy threatens the same health official, in full view of the police officers who are one foot away.
This level of demented fury is directed at masks. Not at vaccines, which would also be ridiculous, but then again, some people have a thing about needles. At masks. At small, thin pieces of fabric you put in front of your nose and mouth to reduce your vulnerability to and potential spread of a respiratory virus that is once again overwhelming emergency rooms in a new and more communicable variant, months after vaccines could have moved us past all of this. Masks, so that your kids don’t get each other and their families and communities sick, so we can get back to our lives already. The highest level of rage, pointed at the least we can do.
The antichrist MAGA “prolife” cult, which used to boast that it would die for Christ, now offers “The highest level of rage, pointed at the least we can do” as the Spirit ask, not for seven Herculean feats, but for utterly trivial inconveniences for the sake of the vulnerable.
This is Tennessee, so it might be tempting for us Catholics to chalk all this up to Bible Belt Fundamentalist wahoos. But this Freak Show narcissism commands the minds of millions of white conservative Catholics too. Bishop Joseph Strickland blesses anti-vax nuttery and insane conspiracy theories and is lionized by Catholic Answers. Fr. James Altman, disciplined by his bishop for, among other things, calling sane public health “godless” has hundreds of thousands of dollars rolling in from self-pitying MAGA Catholics who see in him a Deliverer from the Liberal Church that asks them to observe common decency and not spread plague. Normals in the Church look on in horror as legions of “Real Catholic” lunatics who believe themselves martyrs selfishly inflict death and suffering on others–and discover only too late that their radical selfishness is often a death sentence for themselves.
That’s a huge part of the heartbreak for me. A people who taught me, “If any man would be my disciple, he must take up his cross and follow me”, when put to the most minor test of common decency and consideration for others, reacted with the selfish, irrational fury of a one year old when the day actually came for them to consider anybody but themselves. Generation Narcissus–my generation–has led the way on this, showing the poisonous fruits of the Me Generation–but also demonstrating that nobody internalized that more than the Greatest Christians of All Time, who once fancied ourselves a light for revelation to the Gentiles.
Paul once remarked:
According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble— .each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. .If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. .If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
He is thinking, of course, of Judgment Day. But as history has often shown, every day is Judgement Day and Christ’s parousia happens again and again not only when the Eucharist is consecrated, but when we meet our neighbor, especially the least of these.
“If you do not see Christ in the beggar at the Church door, you shall not find him in the Chalice,” says St. John Chrysostom. My generation, challenged to put up with the most trivial inconvenience for the sake of old women and children coughing up blood as they gasp out their last breaths in isolation wards staffed by exhausted health care workers, instead chose to be a pack of sociopathic narcissists claiming the name of Christ while screaming like devils at this request for a sacrifice so trivial that calling it a “cross” is an insult to every saint who ever gave his life for Christ.
Meanwhile, it is the despised liberals, the James Martins, the “CINOs”, the quiet people who, without fuss or self-aggrandizement or fanfare have gotten the shot, worn the mask, put up with the inconvenience, borne the scorn of the Greatest Christians of All Time, cared for the sick, shown consideration for those in their parishes, schools, and communities who cannot be vaccinated, and humbly thought first of others who have passed the test and who continue to be the real backbone of the Church that actually obeys Christ rather than using him as a mascot for dreams of selfish, nihilist power. That is roughly half the Church in the US, which is a sign of hope. But the MAGA cult still has an awful lot of power and money and remains a deadly threat, both spiritually and physically, to the rest of us.
In the end, it comes back (as I should have known all along), not to loud boasts of superior morality or “Real Christianity” or any of the culture war crap that now bellows its defiance of the Holy Father and the actual guidance of the Church, but to simple obedience to Christ and elementary commands like “Love your neighbor” and “You shall not kill”:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt 7:15–23).
On That Day, I think an atheist who got the damn shot and wore the damn mask to protect her neighbor from getting COVID will hear “I was immunocompromised, and you had my back” from the Great King while the selfish narcissist Christian who shouted “I DON’T LIVE IN FEAR” (while packing heat to Home Depot) and killed his neighbor by insisting on spreading COVID will… require a helluva lot of mercy from God if he hopes to be saved.