Today is the feast of Our Lady of Fátima. No, I don’t really want to get into the conversion of Russia, thank you all the same. Perhaps another time. But maybe we can review the basics of Fátima. From May 13, 1916 to October 13, 1917, three shepherd children (Lúcia dos Santos, Francisco Marto, Jacinta Marto) were visited first by an angel and then by the Blessed Virgin at Fátima, Portugal. Saints Francisco and Jacinto (canonized in 2017) died as victims of the 1918-1920 world influenza pandemic. Lúcia went on to enter religious life, and died as Sister Maria Lúcia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart, OCD (Order of Discalced – unshod – Carmelites), in 2005. The cause for her beatification is underway.
The apparitions at Fátima were controversial from the start, and Fátima may well be the most politicized of all the Marian apparitions. The local bishop declared the apparitions to be “worthy of belief “in 1930. Worthy or not, and as is the case with any Marian apparition, no Catholic is required to believe either in the apparitions at Fátima or in the associated “secrets” of Fátima.
So, lots of controversy and lots of politics, but here’s the deal and here’s what it helps me to remember about Fátima: In a time of calamity and distress, Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children with words of comfort and deliverance. Does that way of putting it ring any “that sounds familiar” bells?
It has not been reported that any of the children were wearing masks at the time of the apparitions. But we should be wearing masks and especially when indoors and away from home. Here’s why, beyond the fact that our governor has – and quite wisely – directed us to do so: Masks protect those around you. They don’t work very well at protecting you from incoming viruses (I’m told that virus is one of the few words with Latin roots that has no Latin plural, so it’s viruses.), but they do work well at containing any viruses that might otherwise, um, issue from your countenance.
Infection is, among other things, a matter of dosage and exposure – number of viruses taken in over time. Research has shown that infection can occur if you inhale or otherwise take in as few as 1,000 COVID-19 viruses. And that’s true whether you take them in at one swell foop fell swoop or over a certain amount of time: 1,000 viruses at once, 10 viruses 100 times, or 100 viruses 10 times. One thousand may seem like a lot to have to inhale, but it’s not. A single sneeze or cough from an infected person – whether or not they have symptoms – can release 200 million (200,000,000) viruses. An uncovered cough or sneeze sends those viruses ACROSS THE ROOM. All of that is why someone who works in a grocery store all day is more likely to get sick than someone who simply visits the grocery store for 20 minutes. But all it takes for any of us is ONE unmasked cough from ONE infected person. That’s why we’re being so careful as we experiment with opening our church to limited public Masses.
If anyone feels like dismissing this next as too political, fine, but here goes anyway: The countries of Europe are organizing for a second wave. Absent effective national leadership, we Americans are busy pretending that everything is fine. Dear ones, everything is not fine. We’re far from done with this. I wish we were, but we’re not. There will be a second wave. The question is how bad it will be.
Don’t want to scare you. This is just epidemiology at work. Fear is not going to help us. Trusting in God and using our God-given brains is going to help us. Caring for one another is going to help us. Wearing a mask may be inconvenient – although I will say you look absolutely dashing in your bandana – but it is in fact the Christian approach to this crisis, for by wearing masks we care for each other. I’m not wearing my mask for me, for it does little to protect me. I’m wearing it for you. Let’s take care of each other, in Christ, because this is God’s world and we are… beloved.