A Call for Hope: 20,000 faithful share phone conversation with Archbishop Aquila

Social distancing provides a great opportunity to do something many of us likely don’t do much of anymore: speak on the phone.

And on Sunday, March 22, that’s exactly what 20,000 people of the Archdiocese of Denver did with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and former CDC virologist Deacon Rob Lanciotti. The call was hosted to answer the faithful’s questions about the coronavirus outbreak and how the archdiocese is responding.

A multitude of topics were touched upon, including a spiritual reflection from Archbishop Aquila on how we as Christians are to respond in this pandemic, what Easter Masses are going to look like, what it means to “flatten the curve,” and much more.

We’ve assembled some quotes and highlights from the call for you below. You can also listen to the full call here.

Archbishop’s comments

On whether God created coronavirus

“…We need to understand that it is not God who creates the plague or the virus. This is something of nature. It happens. And and with that, the Lord certainly permits it. And it is to him that we truly need to turn during this time and and certainly seek his wisdom in all that we do and in the decisions that are made certainly in our own time.”

On what the Lord is teaching through this

“…As we reflect on it from a spiritual point of view, we can see that the Lord perhaps is desiring to bring good out of this, and that is to wake us up to the truth that we are not God, that we are creatures, that we have been created by God and for God, and that it really calls us out of indifference. It calls us out of seeking our own preferences. And it truly is a wakeup call.”

On how the Easter Triduum will be celebrated

“…All of the parishes, through a decree that came from the Holy See within the last few days, gave to all parish priests permission to celebrate in their parishes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday without a congregation. And so the parishes that are able to livestream that will be livestreaming it. And we’ve encouraged them to do that.\And I, too, will be celebrating the Triduum liturgies at the cathedral without a congregation present. And these liturgies will all be livestreamed for the faithful to participate.”

On what to pray for

“I want to give you encouragement, continue to pray, continue to open your heart to the Lord and really put your trust in him, and especially to exercise the virtue of charity and especially for caring for the elderly. It is the people who are 60 or older who are most impacted by this virus. And so it will be important in the weeks and even months ahead to be cautious and to follow all of the directives of health care providers and and so that they do not get sick. And it’s important to stay in touch with our elderly and to give them encouragement during this time, because it’s difficult for them as they’re confined to their homes or confined to their rooms if they’re in nursing homes or in assisted living places, most of them are confined. And so keeping them in prayer and holding them up to the Lord and also really praying for health care officials and and praying especially for scientists.”

Deacon Lanciotti’s comments

On how we can overcome the virus

“The challenge is we’re facing a highly transmissible respiratory virus that’s been introduced into a population that has essentially no immunity at all. That’s what is the foundation of a pandemic. And so it’s I think it’s important to understand that what will ultimately end this pandemic is immunity in the population – people developing antibodies and other activations in their immune system to combat this virus. Now, immunity is only achieved two ways. One is by getting infected naturally. And the other is by vaccination. And so that’s really the goal, is for the population to develop immunity to this virus. I know there’s a vaccine that’s already in people in trials in Seattle, but that’s what we need. We need immunity. What these measures are designed to do is slow down the number of infections so that everybody can be adequately treated in a hospital.”

On social distancing and flattening the curve

“One analogy to think of is if you took all of the crime that occurs in Denver in a year’s period and condensed it into one night, what would happen? It would be a disaster, because a lot of people that would normally be treated and and taken to a hospital and cared for, a lot of those people would needlessly die because there just aren’t enough personnel, ambulances, so forth and so on. And that’s essentially what these measures are designed to do. We want to slow down this epidemic such that everybody who is infected, it can occur over a longer period of time so that everyone can be treated comprehensively. That’s what we mean by flattening the curve. In a typical epidemic where you do nothing, you get an incredibly logarithmic or rapid rise in cases. And it all happens fairly quickly in a matter of weeks or maybe a month.\These measures are designed to slow things down so everyone can be treated.”

On how we should respond

“I would just remind everyone this is the time to take precautions to do the right thing, but not to panic. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a virus that in the majority of cases will not cause severe outcomes. There are many people that are suffering from this, but it is a virus that is is going to have a minimal effect on the majority of the people. And so we have to be safe and we have to show love and charity to those around us by not transmitting it. There really is no cause for fear. We just have to wait this out, follow what we’ve been told and pray that in addition to all that we can do to slow this down, that God will intervene as well and help us.”

Call-in comments

Gratitude for Archbishop Aquila’s leadership

“Your Excellency, I’m just calling to thank you so much for your care and prayers for us and for your words of encouragement that is helping us to get through this difficult time. Thank you especially for caring and for protecting our priests. Know that there are many, many of us that are praying for you daily, for the most powerful intercession of Mary and St. Joseph, for your protection, strength and peace, and good health. Thank you, your excellency.”

Featured Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic

COMING UP: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash