January 5, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – As the U.K. and much of Europe head into ever-stricter coronavirus lockdowns, Americans can look forward to something similar from the likely incoming Biden administration. This isn’t quite the vaccine-protected, hopeful new year we were promised, and our short-term ways of dealing with the situation may be getting a bit tired.
In a similar way, some people who were worried about Pope Francis comforted themselves with the thought that his approach, which in certain obvious ways contrasts so strongly with his predecessors’, was unlikely to last long. The Italians have a saying: a fat pope is followed by a thin pope. As time has gone on, I’ve become less sure this is how things will be. They don’t seem to make cardinals like Joseph Ratzinger (elected as Pope Benedict XVI) any more.
In any case, it seems to me that in this bright new year we should be thinking about adaptation, rather than either hibernation, waiting for better times, or the hyper-activity of a response to an emergency. We can’t afford either the loss of time from the first, as months of crisis lengthen into years, or the stress of the second.
In practice I would like to suggest that we consider the more fundamental aspects of our lives, even if this feels like a difficult moment to do that. We may not get a better moment for the foreseeable future.
Last year I suggested to readers that they learn to cook. This turned out to be rather a good idea, and one nice thing about the coronavirus business is the increase in home baking we have seen, although this was sometimes impeded by a shortage of ingredients. This year I propose something even more fundamental to staying sane: a program of spiritual and intellectual development.
Here are some specific ideas.
Periodic fasting has become a significant trend in the secular world. A recognition of its health benefits, and some helpful explanations of the “how” in serious fasting, should make possible a revival of a Catholic penitential discipline regarded as fundamental by our predecessors. Fasting requires no equipment; you can do it at home; you can do it alone; and it actually increases your free time. In the right spirit, and in imitation of Jesus Christ, we can fast in reparation for our own sins and for the conversion of the world.
Church-going may or may not be impeded where you are, but you can always pray. The best prayer is that done in common with the whole Church, and the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) can be done practically anywhere, and if necessary on your own. The Code of Canon Law heartily recommends this even for lay people (1174.2):
Other members of the Christian faithful, according to circumstances, are also earnestly invited to participate in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church.
Lay people can pray any version of the Office they wish: older editions, monastic or Roman, and in any language we like. Those starting out on this should consider the short, easy to understand and hugely satisfying Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are several editions in print: this is really making a come-back.
Finally, it is not just our spiritual lives we should consider, but our intellectual lives. We are living in a time when our intellects as well as our spiritual values are challenged. Things happen which don’t appear to make sense. We are asked to accept arguments which insult our intelligence, and yet those who object can find themselves publicly pilloried and driven from the their jobs.
One way of dealing with this is to read specific things on the specific issues of the moment. This is a good thing but the issues are so many, and constantly changing, that we would do well to think as well about our intellectual foundations. Our understanding of the history of the Church would be one place to start: perhaps with the nicely written, not over-long new history of the Popes, Vicars of Christ by Charles Coulombe.
I also think that we need time to exercise our thinking, not just on the traumatic issues of the moment, but on something completely different, in a space where no one is shrieking at us to think one thing rather than another. This may be about any subject, but one way of getting a breath of cool air is with those parts of philosophy least infected with fashionable thinking and least distorted by the need to get the answers demanded by some political ideology. A little walk with Socrates in his short, early dialogues might be just the thing. If anyone is interested, I could even join you for such an amble.
Above all, give yourselves space to breathe in 2021. I don’t think anyone else is going to do it for you.