Whom the Gods Would Destroy They First Make Mad

There is one thing about the future that can be predicted with absolute certainty. It is that everybody reading these lines will one day die, as will their author, and I rather sooner than most of you because I am in my eighties and most of you are bound to be younger, and it is in the nature of things that older persons die sooner.

It may also be supposed that most readers who are regular visitors to this website are Catholic. It is something else we have in common, and the fact of it ought to endow all of us with a real measure of equanimity compared to the evident emotional state of many other Americans in these days when fear of the COVID-19 pandemic has them by the throat. After all, we know that even were this virus to kill us, it would not be the end of our life. Our belief that it would not is something we affirm in our daily recital of the Creed. We believe in “life everlasting.”

As for the emotional state and behavior of others, they put me in mind of a line in Sophocles’ play Antigone that has been echoed by many writers over the centuries: “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” In the context of Antigone what was meant is that evil appears as good to those whom “the gods” will lead to destruction.

In the modern pantheon the gods with the greatest number and most fervent devotees are not Zeus, Aphrodite and Apollo, but sex, money and power. These things are not evil in themselves. In truth, bent to their proper purpose they are goods, but like all goods, even including love, they can be abused. In our day the abuse extends to the point of their becoming gods – false substitutes for the One True Trinitarian God to whom practicing Christians, formerly the majority of society everywhere in the West, cleave.

To my mind this suggests the question many are asking these days: Is COVID-19 a punishment inflicted by God? Maybe. I don’t know. But throughout the history of the People of God in both the Old and New Testaments, men of Faith always took public calamity to be a chastening call to conversion and repentance. We would all benefit if the idea we got out of calamities was “unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). A passage from the prayer of Azarias, recorded in the prophesy of Daniel also comes to mind: “Wherefore all that thou hast brought upon us, and every thing that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment” (Daniel 3:31). The circumstances of this prayer should be kept in mind: the Jews had been violently uprooted from their land and held captive in Babylon. As if that were not bad enough, Azarias, with his two companions, found themselves cast into a fiery furnace. Their “crime” was failing to worship a pagan idol of the king of Babylon. Again, modern man’s crime is the opposite, for we have our idols. Don’t men set themselves up for trouble, including perhaps all the craziness attending the current crisis, as soon as they substitute false gods for the One who so loved them that He sent His only-begotten Son to redeem and save them?

What else may be said of this time of social distancing? Well, things could be worse. Yes, the Eucharist is not now available to millions of Catholics, but neither was it in England in 1600, or in France in 1793, or in Mexico in the 1920s, and in other places at other times, but a huge difference between now and then is that our priests are not now being killed and imprisoned by the governments in power here and abroad.

We’re having to “shelter in place”? I think of the women, children and old men living in the residential neighborhoods of every major German city when the U.S. and Britain purposely targeted them for saturation bombing in World War II. There was no shelter for them. Neither was there for the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (where the largest Catholic church in Asia was ground zero). If God inflicts punishment in this world on men for their misdeeds, what about those millions we killed? As a people, we haven’t even acknowledged the sinfulness of it, much less repented. Need we even speak of the millions of innocent preborn babies who have been sacrificed on the altar of liberal democracy since abortion was made legal in the U.S. in 1973? Then there was phony Catholic Nancy Pelosi the other day trying to tack federal funding for abortion onto Congress’s economic relief package. She wouldn’t be the most powerful woman in U.S. history if voters hadn’t put her there. Indeed, whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

Before I wind this up in another two or three paragraphs, let me observe that the current worldwide crisis has produced at least one excellent result. There is not today a single leader of any country blathering about the wonderfulness of open borders. Globalism has had it! Doubtless when the crisis is over the ilk of Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Justin Trudeau will try to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but there is no way they will succeed. From Washington D.C. to Moscow and beyond, nationalist populism will be the dominant political force in the world for years to come. If only the Church were fully enough herself to play the role she should in this new dispensation! (Of course if she had been during the past fifty years, we wouldn’t be in the current mess.)

Some final thoughts: Don’t stay glued to the fear-mongering broadcast and cable news media. Make better use of the time you now have at your disposal. It is an opportunity for all of us to deepen our prayer life. Really meditate on the Mysteries of the rosary. Take the opportunity to read the entirety of the New Testament if you never have. Read The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis if you never have. Pray for all the first responders in this crisis, including the people stocking the shelves in the markets and the truckers and railroad workers moving freight. Don’t forget to pray for those who succumb to the disease. Thanksgiving is also due for the priests hearing confessions and saying Masses in church parking lots.

Beware also. We should all be nervous about how politicians have taken control of our lives in the crisis. How much of it will they relinquish when the crisis is over?

God is in His Heaven and all things work to the good. Believing this – believing that however chaotic things may seem God understands all of it and is in control – is to have faith. Having faith produces an attitude, one of confidence. You know there is a higher purpose to life than having pleasure, money, power. Stick to that purpose. Have faith. Be confident.