Sunday, March 21, 2021

March 21: Under the Direction of Grace, Pandemic Conversations, Dr. Fauci

 Merton recuperates in Cuba . . .

So I was all at once surrounded with everything that could protect me against trouble, against savagery, against suffering. Of course, while I was in the hospital, there were some physical pains, some very small inconveniences: but on the whole, everybody who has had an ordinary appendix operation knows that it is really only a picnic. And it was certainly that for me. I finished the whole Paradiso, in Italian, and read part of Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics

After ten days I got out and went to Douglaston, to the house where my uncle and aunt still lived and where they invited me to rest until I was on my feet again. So that meant two more weeks of quiet, and undisturbed reading. I could shut myself up in the room that had once been Pop’s “den,” and make meditations, and pray, as I did, for instance, on the afternoon of Good Friday. And for the rest my aunt was willing to talk all day about the Redemptorists whose monastery had been just down the street when she had been a little girl in Brooklyn. 

Finally, in the middle of Easter week, I went to my doctor and he ripped off the bandages and said it was all right for me to go to Cuba. 

I think it was in that bright Island that the kindness and solicitude that surrounded me wherever I turned my weak steps, reached their ultimate limit. It would be hard to believe that anyone was so well taken care of as I was: and no one has ever seen an earthly child guarded so closely and so efficiently and cherished and guided and watched and led with such attentive and prevenient care as surrounded me in those days. For I walked through fires and put my head into the mouths of such lions as would bring grey hairs even to the head of a moral theologian, and all the while I was walking in my new simplicity and hardly knew what it was all about, so solicitous were my surrounding angels to whisk the scandals out from the path of my feet, and to put pillows under my knees wherever I seemed about to stumble. 

I don’t believe that a saint who had been elevated to the state of mystical marriage could walk through the perilous streets and dives of Havana with notably less contamination than I seem to have contracted. And yet this absence of trouble, this apparent immunity from passion or from accident, was something that I calmly took for granted. God was giving me a taste of that sense of proprietorship to which grace gives a sort of a right in the hearts of all His children. For all things are theirs, and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. They own the world, because they have renounced proprietorship of anything in the world, and of their own bodies, and have ceased to listen to the unjust claims of passion. 

Of course, with me there was no question of any real detachment. If I did not listen to my passions it was because, in the merciful dispensation of God, they had ceased to make any noise—for the time being. They did wake up, momentarily, but only when I was well out of harm’s way in a very dull and sleepy city called Camagüey where practically everybody was in bed by nine o’clock at night, and where I tried to read St. Teresa’s Autobiography in Spanish under the big royal palms in a huge garden which I had all to myself. 

I told myself that the reason why I had come to Cuba was to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Cobre. And I did, in fact, make a kind of a pilgrimage. But it was one of those medieval pilgrimages that was nine-tenths vacation and one-tenth pilgrimage. God tolerated all this and accepted the pilgrimage on the best terms in which it could be interpreted, because He certainly beset me with graces all the way around Cuba: graces of the kind that even a person without deep spirituality can appreciate as graces: and that is the kind of person I was then and still am. 

Every step I took opened up a new world of joys, spiritual joys, and joys of the mind and imagination and senses in the natural order, but on the plane of innocence, and under the direction of grace.

I think that the joy and peace Merton experiences in this passage flow from his decision to enter the religious life.  Rather than stumbling through his daily existence, he has direction and purpose.  He has some indistinct understanding of what his future holds, and he feels like God is watching over and guiding him.  Protecting him.  And so, he has lost the sense of fear and dread that veils most human lives.

I've had several conversations in the last week or so regarding the pandemic.  They pretty much go like this:

Person:  "I'm not going to walk around all the time afraid of getting COVID."

Me:  "I'm not walking around in fear all the time."

Person:  "What do you call it then?"

Me:  "Walking in reality."

Person:  "What do you mean?"

Me:  "There's still a pandemic going on."

Person:  "Yeah, I know."

Me:  "There are new strains of the virus that are 50% more contagious."

Person:  "But people are getting vaccinated."

Me:  "Which helps, but we aren't anywhere close to herd immunity."

Person:  "I've had my vaccine."

Me:  "So, you're protected from not getting as sick if you get the virus" 

Person:  "Right."

Me:  "But you could still pass it on to someone else."

Person:  (Indistinct)

Me:  "Look, what's a few more months of wearing a mask and social distancing?"

Person:  "I want things to go back to normal."

Me:  "Isn't that what got us in trouble in the first place?"

Person:  (Indistinct again--something about God)

Me:  "What?"

Person:  "Nothing."

Me:  "Look, I think God is watching over us for sure.  But God gave us science and medicine and common sense.  And if we ignore those things, then we're ignoring God, too."

Person:  (Indistinct)

Me:  "What?"

Person:  "Nothing."

Me:  "You do what you think is right.  I'll do what I think is right.  We'll both live with our choices."

Person:  "I'm so tired of you judging me."

Me:  "I'm not the one you need to worry about . . ."

And so forth.  These exchanges either go on forever or end in uncomfortable silences.  

My point here is that there is a difference between trusting in God versus being foolhardy and plain stupid.  It's sort of like the guy who's hanging on for dear life from a branch on a cliff's edge.  "Dear God," he prays, "please rescue me from this!!!"

Pretty soon, the man hears a voice calling from above, "Hello, I'm going to throw a rope down for you.  Grab on, and I'll haul you up!"  

"No, thanks!" the man hanging from the branch calls back.  "I'm waiting for God to save me."

A little while later, a helicopter comes by, and the pilot calls out, "I'm going to lower a basket for you to climb into."

"No, thanks!" the man hanging from the branch calls back.  "I'm waiting for God to save me."

Some more time passes, and the man hears a voice from beneath him shout, "I'm in a boat below you!  Let go and fall into the water!  I'll rescue you!"

"No, thanks!" the man hanging on the branch calls back.  "I'm waiting for God to save me."

Eventually, the man's grip begins to loosen, and the strength in his arms starts to fade.  Pretty soon, the man can't hang on any longer, and he lets go and falls to his death in the sea below.

When the man gets to heaven, he storms up to God and says, "Where were you?!  I prayed for you to save me, and you let me die!"

God looks at the man and says, "What are you talking about?  I sent a guy with a rope, a helicopter, and a boat."

God uses people to do his work.  Dr. Fauci has been doing it since the beginning of the pandemic.  In the face of major opposition at times, he has been that voice in the wilderness.  Throwing us a rope.  Telling us how we can return to "normal."  Being sane in the midst of insanity.

We just all need to listen and trust.  It's not about stripping naked, covering yourself in honey, and throwing yourself into a colony of fire ants because God will keep you safe.  It's about paying attention.  Noticing when God sends us messages, through whatever angels happen to be on hand.  A doctor of infectious disease.  Friend.  Poet.  Sister-in-law.  Son,  Daughter.

Saint Marty gives thanks for the miracle of angels.  

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