Pedro Gabriel (who is, by the way, a Portuguese doctor who knows whereof he speaks concerning COVID-19) responds to the repulsive, unbiblical, anti-Catholic and evil logic of Taylor Marshall concerning the Pandemic and the Church’s extremely wise decisions to ban public Masses:
“Apocalyptic thought: This may be the Judgment of God. Pachamama leads to suspension of all true worship of the Blessed Triune God. In the Major and Minor Prophets of OT, God revokes true worship when His people drift to idols”
— Taylor Marshall
Twitter, March 8th, 2020
As a doctor specializing in the field of Oncology, I have a particular interest in the issue of human suffering. As a Catholic, this interest is heightened by the quest for answers to the age-old question: “Why does a good God allow suffering?” I have studied this topic at length, never quite finding the answer I was looking for, but continuously persisting for knowledge that goes beyond simplistic apologetics and unsatisfactory answers.
It is, therefore, extremely unpleasant to cross paths with tweets like the one quoted above. Even more so, that it was not written by an anonymous troll, but by a former apologist of renown, who still retains a large following and has influence in a certain sector of the Church. It is a perfect showcase, however, of what happens when Catholics (even highly intelligent ones) cut themselves off from the obedience due to Christ, which is necessarily exercised through His Vicar: such Catholics inevitably undergo a downward spiral that eventually consumes both their intellect and their charity.
Dr. Taylor Marshall pins the fault of the coronavirus epidemic, which has assailed Italy and forced the Church to suspend public ceremonies (including Mass), on the alleged idolatrous act performed in the Vatican Gardens during a prayer service at the beginning of the Amazon Synod of 2019. We have already seen other, similar appropriations of natural disasters from Catholic media figures that disseminate this incorrect account of what transpired in the Vatican Gardens.
Claims such as these are not based on a correct understanding of what we know about God and suffering; namely suffering due to natural causes.
When we talk of suffering, we need to understand that most people do not as much fear suffering per se, as they fear meaningless suffering. As psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl postulates: “despair is suffering without meaning.” It is, therefore, an extremely human response to ascribe a purpose to our sufferings, thereby making them more bearable and possibly more controllable.
Unfortunately, throughout history, humans have distorted this coping mechanism, and attributed suffering to evil. In ancient times, when tribal mentalities were widely disseminated, this was done through scapegoating. This meant that people would give a meaning to their suffering by assigning blame to others. As long as they could identify someone else as being the direct cause of their suffering, they could cope with it by hating or fighting that person or entity.
Even today, it is not unusual to find examples of this. It is very natural, though not entirely common, for terminal patients or their family members to retrace their medical history in order to try to find mistakes in the work of their healthcare team. Others may react by blaming God for all their ills, and revolting against Him.
This phenomenon can also be seen in highly religious people, especially when they exhibit a Manicheistic worldview, clearly divided between the good guys (them) and the bad guys (those who do not share their religious values). This is a form of modern-day tribal thinking. There’s “us,” and there’s “them.” And if there is something wrong with the world, then the fault must lie with “them,” since God is good and would never allow for such wrongness otherwise.
Please take note: according to Dr. Marshall’s interpretation, those responsible for the coronavirus epidemic (and the restrictions on Mass and other Church activities that ensued) are the people who performed the service in the Vatican Gardens. Also implicated in this assignment of blame is Pope Francis, who allowed the “pagan” ceremony to take place. In his conspiracy theory book, Dr. Marshall strongly implies that this Pope is the culmination of what he calls an “infiltration” in the Church by evil forces, both natural and supernatural. In constructing his narrative, Dr. Marshall splices the Church into the ones who are in the wrong and those who are right, assuming that the former are the ones who caused God to send a plague that made the Church cancel Masses in Rome as divine judgment. In other words, the “others” are at fault.
Never did Dr. Marshall entertain the possibility that the epidemic might have been a punishment for sacrilegiously dunking into the Tiber of several statues that represent Our Lady of the Amazon to the natives. Quite the contrary: the vandal who performed this stunt was lauded and interviewed by Dr. Marshall, who later even hosted him during his visit to Texas for a speaking engagement. But he is one of “us.” He cannot be blamed.
Dr. Marshall also never considers the possibility that these sacramental restrictions may be a punishment for the way ideologues hijacked the Amazon Synod, which should have been primarily concerned with how to best make the sacraments accessible to Catholics in remote regions. Those ideologues made it all about the issue of priestly celibacy, which is more about First World Culture Wars (of which Dr. Marshall is an active part) than about the Amazonians. Maybe God would like to show First World Catholics what it feels like to not have easy access to the Eucharist.Neither does Dr. Marshall factor the possibility that this is a divine punishment for a globalized economy of greed, because that would conflict with Dr. Marshall’s political sympathies.
No, the fault for the coronavirus epidemic always lies with “the other,” who clearly must have committed sins that God must punish in order to restore balance. As for Dr. Marshall and his followers, they implicitly present themselves as part of the solution, since they stand opposed to the sinful “others” who caused the problem in the first place.
There is much more. Do read the whole thing.
Meanwhile, I want to add a few points and underscore some of what Pedro says.
First, if your response to cancelling Mass in a time of pandemic is “I’m not afraid to go to Mass and risk getting sick” your courage is commendable. Now ask, “Am I afraid to go to Mass and help kill somebody else by recklessly exposing them to a sickness they cannot fight?” You can be infected and not know it. That’s the issue.
That is what our shepherds are thinking about: the least of these. If your participation in the Eucharist matters more to you than whether you are helping to kill people, then I daresay you are radically missing the point of the Eucharist. It’s not all about you. Take this time as a Lenten fast and offer it up–in union with the Eucharist.
Second, as you do that, think about and pray for the Amazonian Catholics, who must sometimes wait years for sacraments, who came to Rome seeking a little more pastoral support and bringing Our Lady of the Amazon as a gift. In reward, selfish grifters like Taylor Marshall spat in their faces, desecrated their gift, and called them pagan idolators attacking the Church.
Now, because these vain spouting popinjays think their performative piety matters more than the death of a bunch of Italians they could not care less about, they declare the End of Days over Rome’s good sense and blame the same Amazonian Catholics for “bringing God’s judgment” on the Church. Some of them recirculate cartoons with Hitler, Stalin and Mao praising the bishops and saying, “You are doing what we could not.” That is incredibly low.
Here’s reality, Jesus corrected the simplistic assumption that all sickness is punishment from God. Very often, it is a sharing in the cross of Christ. Jesus draws no conclusion from the collapse of a tower that killed some people, or the murder of some Jews by Pilate that they were singled out by God for special punishment for their wickedness. He tells the disciples that the blind man was not being punished for anybody’s sin, but was in fact chosen by God for a special blessing as prelude to healing him. He makes a similar point about his friend Lazarus before he raises him.
This is why it is just stupid to add to human suffering with pious gloating. The Greatest Catholics of All Time already know this and practice it selectively, when it is to their advantage. That is why Marshall asked only for prayers for healing, not repentance, when Alexander Tschueggel, the guy who threw Our Lady of Amazon in the Tiber, contracted COVID. No bulletins were issued announcing God’s judgment on him for desecrating Our Lady or insulting fellow Catholics. Just a request to pray for healing. I agree with that approach, because I leave such judgements up to God. But I likewise insist that all of Marshall’s insult to injury judgments against Amazonian Catholics and Francis and the rest of the suffering Church need to go in the garbage. They do nothing but evil. The question we need to ask is “How can we repent and live lives of love?” not “What is God doing to punish that guy over there?”
Next, a word about the temporary lack of access to sacraments. In addition to taking this as an opportunity to make reparation for Catholics like those in the Amazon living in a permanent sacramental desert (and the abominable treatment they received at the hands of many Catholics), remember this: Sacraments are the kisses of God. They are sure encounters with grace, but not our *sole* encounters with grace. When God providentially cuts us off from them for a season, he provides other means of grace to provide for the lack while we go with him through the desert. Our job is to obey, not murmur.
So: To all who are saying, with fear, “But the Mass must continue! It holds the world together!”
The Mass does continue all over the planet. Right now, somewhere on earth, the Eucharistic sacrifice is being offered and, for the sake of his sorrowful passion, God has mercy on us and on the whole world. There could literally be only one Mass being said anywhere on earth and it would be sufficient for the salvation of the whole world. As it is, there are thousands being said every day as far as the east is from the west. That we do not get to physically participate is immaterial. God has called us to a different and strange vocation in this time. Take up that vocation with gusto till we can return to the altar and bring God a return on his investment in you when you do. This too is a blessed time.
Find some way to contribute to the Common Good. Think first of your neighbor, not yourself. Give your fears to God and then *act* in some concrete way to express love to somebody. That’s the ticket. We’ll get through this.