Where are now the kings and princes that once reigned over all the world, whose glory and triumph were lifted up above the earth? Where are now the innumerable company and power of Xerxes and Caesar? Where are the great victories of Alexander and Pompey? Where are now the great riches of Croesus and Crassus? But what shall we say of those who once were kings and governors of this realm? Where are they now whom we have known and seen in our days in such great wealth and glory that it was thought by many they would never have died, never have been forgotten? They had all their pleasures at the full, both of delicious and good fare, of hawking, hunting, also of excellent horses and stallions, greyhounds and hounds for their entertainment, their palaces well and richly furnished, strongholds and towns without number. They had a great plenty of gold and silver, many servants, fine apparel for themselves and their lodgings. They had the power of the law to proscribe, to punish, to exalt and set forward their friends and loved ones, to put down and make low their enemies, and also to punish by temporal death rebels and traitors. Every man held with them, all were at their command. Every man was obedient to them, feared them, also honored and praised them, everywhere now? Are they not gone and wasted like smoke? Of them it is written in another place, mox ut honorificati fuerint et exaltati, dificientes quemadmodum fumus deficient (when they were in their utmost prosperity and fame, they soon failed and came to nothing, even as smoke does) (Ps. 36:2). St. James compares the vanity of this life to a vapor, and he says it shall perish and wither away as a flower in the hay season. (James 4:15).
Saint John Fisher
Has this Lent gone on for a thousand years? It feels like it to me. I have never missed Mass before except on rare occasions of illness, and I feel like I have been traversing a spiritual desert for the past few weeks. When this is over I will never take Mass for granted again. My heart goes out to families with loved ones who have died during this time period and who have been denied a funeral Mass, and who had to bury their loved ones with small private grave side services. Best not to think of those who have died in mortal sin, deprived of easy access to confession.
Perhaps God allowed this debacle in part to teach us how arid a life without Him truly is, at least a life without the ability to go to Mass whenever we please and receive the sacraments whenever we wish. Of course, what we are experiencing is the norm for Catholics throughout history and today who have lived in times and places where the Church has been, or is, undergoing persecution, where Christ is crucified anew each day.
I often use the phrase “this Vale of Tears” to describe this life. For us in the West it often appears to be merely a figure of speech. In the West, materially, it tends not to be true. Most of us enjoy physical comfort that would be the envy of most rulers who lived prior to the last century. But as Christ taught us, Man does not live by bread alone. Spiritually perhaps, this was, in part, allowed to occur to demonstrate the spiritual impoverishment of much of the West.
All bad experiences can be profitable if we learn from them, and the Long Lent of 2020 gives us much to ponder for our spiritual well being.