Some bishops scared of death on Ash Wednesday
TO THE QUICK - Jerry S. Tundag (The Freeman) - February 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Today, Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten Season in the Roman Catholic Church, Catholic faithful the world over are expected to be reminded of their mortality by having the sign of the cross written in ash on their foreheads. At least that is the more widespread practice. But there are some places where ash is sprinkled on the heads of the faithful.

It is this latter practice that some bishops in the Philippines are advocating for this particular Ash Wednesday. But it is not out of some sudden inspiration to try something novel or seldom used. It is as a sort of precaution to avoid physical contact in this time of the coronavirus. The bishops apparently think touching is a way of spreading a disease that is now ravaging China, with the potential to spread worldwide.

Physical contact may, of course, spread the disease, assuming an infected person passes on the virus by means of touching. But the main mode of spreading the disease is by means of spraying bodily fluids such as saliva through coughing and sneezing, as the coronavirus gets airborne and lands on the next victim.

However, it needs to be emphasized that to spread the disease, an infected person has to be in the picture. An uninfected person sneezing normally is not a threat for the coronavirus although it is both good hygiene and good manners to cover up when opening the mouth for some other purpose than talking, eating, or kissing.

The sudden shift to the uncommon way of observing Ash Wednesday by sprinkling dust on the head instead of on the forehead in the sign of the cross is a knee-jerky reaction of some bishops to the coronavirus scare. It is rather uninformed even and does little or nothing to allay fears and forestall panic. Bishops should stick to the faith and leave health matters to the health experts.

Why, some bishops are even pushing the envelope further, suggesting that confessions, another practice during Lent, be done by an exchange of notes at the confessional, no whispering back and forth of sins and penance lest some wayward droplets of saliva might fly and settle on some unwilling corporal patch of skin or holy earlobe.

This then is the supreme irony, that on the day we are to be reminded of our mortality, some bishops are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid dying. Of course nobody loves death or dying. And this is not to say either that caution be thrown to the wind and that we all become cavalier about our fate.

But bishops, of all people, are supposed to be closest to resigning their fates to the will of God. Mother Theresa, Saint Theresa of Calcutta, never squirmed while ministering to the sick and dying because she entrusted her life to God. Only God knew when her time was up. Ministering to the sick, she never got sick. When Jesus said "Oh you of little faith," I wonder if he did not also mean some bishops deep into the future.

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