No one knows when and how this COVID-19 pandemic will end. One thing, however, is obvious: many things will change in our daily life and society. There will be an Ante-Coronam and a Post-Coronam.
Some people repeat the mantra: “Nothing will be the same as before!” While this warning seems to be somewhat exaggerated, the society that will come out of this pandemic will undoubtedly be different from the present one in many essential aspects. Will these transformations be permanent? No one has a crystal ball. But from the way things are evolving, perhaps it isn’t too early to start raising a few questions.
Some Family Values Re-emerge
Looking at my neighbors and talking to friends all over the country, I am struck by the way most Italian families have managed to adapt to forced confinement, especially those with children. I thought that many people would succumb to depression, even falling into despair, thus triggering an increase in domestic violence and marital crises. While some such cases have occurred, the general rule seems to have been the opposite. Many families are rediscovering the simple joys of everyday life: they are eating together, playing, conversing, watching movies, organizing plays, doing chores, painting, and so on. From the deepest layers of their souls, where they lay buried under the manners of modern society, some family values, rooted in human nature, are re-emerging. And with them the idea, or should I say the experience of a more organic society. Will it be something lasting? Or will this shudder of organicity evaporate as soon as things return to “normal”? It’s hard to say. I suspect that once they re-emerge, these values will exist as an inner voice that will continuously remind people: a different world is possible!
Perception of Time
If we want to define modern society, we can sum it up in one word: frenzy. We are always sucked in by the whirlwind of frenetic intemperance, which imposes its frenzied rhythms in every field of human activity: from economy to culture to religion. This has made us lose contact with our inner roots and with the real purposes of life. We no longer appreciate what we are but what we do, and the faster, the better. We no longer value the essence but the existence, in the form of material results, which are then overwhelmed by new enterprises. This frenetic intemperance has deeply upset the human spirit, distinguishing our modern age from all previous ones. Today, however, at a time when social, cultural, and economic life is at a standstill due to confinement, the very perception of time and the rhythm of life is changing in many people. Instead of getting drunk on rhythms, frenetic activities, and exciting experiences, they now have to fill long days with readings, thoughts, conversations, and domestic pastimes, as they once did. As a result, the psychological press of frenetic intemperance seems to have loosened, while some psychological buttresses of the traditional organic society seem to regain more vigor. Once again, will all this lead to a permanent paradigm shift? It is premature to say so.
Many people seem to be experiencing a spiritual awakening. I do not want to enter into the discussion of whether or not this pandemic can be considered a divine “punishment.” However, it is becoming an opportunity for conversion. Stressful situations, both in the individual and the social field, shake our consciences and make us understand, indeed, touch, the fragility of our human nature, society, and the world in general. Everything can vanish in an instant. Divine Providence permits suffering that invites us to shake off our pride and self-sufficiency and instead to entrust ourselves to the mercy of God. In such circumstances, it is easier to turn to God through Our Lady. These are occasions to ask forgiveness for our sins and to implore divine grace to heal our souls. In other words, they are occasions for purification and conversion. In Italy, while the high-ranking clergy, with few exceptions, have practically abandoned the faithful, there is a plethora of prayers, sermons, masses, adoration, and other religious ceremonies online. Visits to sites, blogs, and channels of religious inspiration have increased by almost 300%. Are these signs of conversion? For now, it does not seem so, at least concerning the depth and type that Our Lady requested at Fatima in 1917. Time will tell. However, I see in these developments small sparks that divine grace can eventually turn into fires if people open their souls to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Change of Attitude Toward the Dictatorship
Another profound change that I notice in Italian public opinion is its attitude toward the dictatorship. Here, the word “dictatorship” itself recalls the Fascist Twenty Years, which the majority of Italians claim to hate. Our modern society, they say, is based on the “freedoms” and “rights” of the individual, the exact opposite of a dictatorship. Our legal system even prohibits the “apologia of fascism,” which in reality includes any defense of an authoritarian state. This attitude already seemed to be changing. While the liberal State was showing its flaws – for example, its inability to control illegal immigration and petty crime – a growing majority of Italians were hoping for a stronger State. Recent surveys showed 30% of Italians open to the possibility of a temporary dictatorship. Well, the dictatorship has arrived, albeit in a different way. The Conte government has imposed restrictions on us that not even Mussolini at the height of his power would have imagined. And hardly anyone protested. They understood it was for the common good.
In certain circumstances, the common good requires some freedoms to be temporarily suspended. This is the essence of a dictatorship. And the Italian people seem to have accepted it. Is this a positive or negative development? I think it has both aspects. On the one hand, the fact that the idea of unlimited freedom as the hallmark of modern society is changing is positive. On the other hand, it is strongly negative because this dictatorship, in concrete terms, is exercised by political forces that do not hide their revolutionary design.
Without entering into the discussion of whether or not this pandemic is the result of a conspiracy, as some claim, the rulers are using it as a social experiment to see to what extent public opinion is ready to accept certain impositions. After a wildly liberal, indeed libertarian phase of the revolutionary process, are we entering a new phase in which its tyrannical side will prevail? Once again, it is too early to answer. But the question must be raised
When the Shepherd Abandons the Flock
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown the worst side of the crisis that has gripped Holy Mother Church for more than half a century: the conscious and voluntary abandonment of her saving mission by so many pastors. Italians were shocked when their Bishops’ Conference (CEI) suspended public worship even before the government decreed its shutdown, thus depriving the faithful of the Sacraments. To the social lockdown, was added the spiritual one, much more implacable. Today we have the bizarre situation that supermarkets and tobacco stores are open, but religious ceremonies are forbidden. While people can easily go shopping or buy cigarettes, many are dying without the help of Confession and the Anointing of the Sick. More than one bishop has even issued regulations prohibiting priests from exposing themselves by caring for the sick. This is the exact opposite of what the Church has done in two thousand years.
Some courageous priests, defying the impositions of the Italian Bishops Conference, have tried to celebrate Mass with a few people present, in perfect compliance with health regulations. They were severely punished with hefty fines and even threatened with imprisonment. Police forces have scandalously invaded some churches and sacrilegiously interrupted the Holy Sacrifice. Not only did the ecclesiastical authorities not protest against these acts of religious persecution, but they sided with the government and reprimanded the “rebel” priests. Perhaps never in the history of Italy has the Church shown itself so submissive to the State.
When yielding to the clamor of the scandalized faithful, the CEI finally began to raise its voice a little in defense of religious freedom, Pope Francis immediately silenced it from the chair of Santa Marta, urging the bishops to “obey the instructions of the Government.”
To this servile attitude toward Caesar, we must add the efforts of many pastors to deny any spiritual meaning to the pandemic. Is this a divine punishment? Traditional Catholic thought would have considered it so, at least as a hypothesis. It is undeniable that Providence sometimes uses, as secondary causes, natural events as “punishments” for the sins of humanity. At Fatima, for example, Our Lady explicitly defined the two world wars as punishments. Today, however, this word is excluded from Catholic vocabulary. The Archbishop of Fatima, Antonio Cardinal Marto, has gone so far as to say, “To speak of this pandemic as punishment is ignorance, fanaticism, and madness.” Clerics refuse to talk about public sin and to call the faithful to conversion. In short, they refuse to fulfill their duty as pastors of souls.
The Responsibility of Communist China
Among the consequences of this COVID-19 pandemic, we must mention the change in the attitude of public opinion toward Communist China. For too long, under the pretext of producing cheap goods and making more profit, the West has invested heavily in the Chinese economy until it became a giant, only to find that this giant is not so kind after all. We have fed China, forgetting that it is governed by a Communist Party that has never hidden its revolutionary expansionist design.
Today, with China’s increasingly evident responsibilities in the current pandemic, we are moving from naive infatuation to a more realistic judgment: Chinese communism is a threat to the West. As Beijing’s arrogance reaches surreal levels, many Westerners are beginning to wonder if they have not taken the wrong path. “China infects us, buys us, and we thank it,” the philosopher Massimo Cacciari summarized the situation. Perhaps the time has come to rethink our strategy toward communist China. Tomorrow it will be too late. Will we have the courage? Here again, only time will tell.
At any rate, adding these and other aspects, it seems clear that the society that will emerge from this pandemic will be quite different from the previous one.
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