I felt many disappointments during our period of COVID hysteria. Most came from the unreasonable over-reactions of our government. But I also felt disappointed that so many American citizens put up with it, that we didn’t exercise more civil disobedience—a valuable and constructive tradition in America.
I felt particularly disappointed that our church leaders succumbed, not attempting any civil disobedience. Christian clergy routinely call their churches “God’s house.” But they allowed governors and government officials to close them. They should have insisted that God’s authority is higher.
As a poet I write for ordinary people, the general population. Accordingly, I write in poetic forms that you recognize, and I write to be understood, not to be obscure. I composed this set of three linked sonnets—fourteen-line poems—to tell the story of when my own Catholic church closed in March 2020.
The governor controls affairs of state.
The bishop governs church as his affair.
The governor said none can congregate,
for fear of COVID spreading everywhere.
He said all public gatherings must end,
since group contact might spread the dread disease.
That left it to the bishop to extend
the rule to churches in his diocese.
But church and state are separate, we’re told.
Church members feel an urge to congregate
together to feel whole, and be so bold
to elevate their God above their state.
A bishop with some courage would have said,
we’ll take our orders from our God instead.
One week before the bishop canceled church,
my parish priest announced at Sunday Mass
that should such closure leave us in the lurch
next week we’d celebrate the Mass on grass
outside—in case pandemic fears forbade
an indoor gathering, the very thing
that happened from the rule the bishop made,
forbidding services to pray and sing.
My parish priest’s defiance made me proud.
He recognized the full authority
of Jesus when He said to friends aloud,
“Now come together in my memory.”
But then next week the bishop had his way:
There was no outdoor Mass at church that day.
I’m sure my priest was told to follow rules.
The bishop too, to heed the government.
But who believes that bishops can’t be fools?
And who can miss what Jesus plainly meant?
Now when the bishop says church may resume,
when fear of spreading viruses subsides,
no Gospel reading should give any room
to passages in which contagion hides:
No words about the lepers Christ approached,
nor spittle He applied to blinded eyes,
no loaves and fishes when the crowd encroached,
No Lazarus exhumed after he dies.
Now scripture too should be well sanitized,
and water changed for every child baptized.