Get ready for Mass for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Timothy P. O’Malley writes…
Does God ‘set’ the day and time of our death?
Question: A post from a Facebook friend puts forth this position: God has “set” the day and time of our death, so there is no sense in fighting against COVID. God will pull my card at the appointed time, and that is that. This would also apply to my neighbor, so wearing a mask, social distancing, etc., will not change anything because God has already determined the day and time my neighbor will die. My question is, does God “set” the day and time of our death or is it that God “knows” the day and time of my death? If God has “set” the day and time of my death, why should I care about following good health practices? If my neighbor is going to die on at a certain time, why should I care about helping to stop the spread of COVID, by following good health practices? What is the proper Catholic response to such a fatalistic Facebook post?
— Brian Majerus, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Answer: There are some distinctions and clarifications needed in the premise provided by your friend. In the first place, there is a mysterious interaction between God’s sovereignty and our free-will acts. That God knows what we will do before we do it does not change the fact that we freely choose those acts. God lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, present and future are all present to him continuously. God is not waiting for anything. He is not wondering what we will do. But this knowledge does not mean we are fatalistically forced to do what he already knows. So, we freely do what he has always known we would do, and his graces and actions are based on that. Thus, for us whose lives unfold in chronological time, what we do matters; the free choices we make matter. We are not locked in a fatalistic drama where we are forced to read our lines and leave the stage when our character is written off.
In some sense, we can say that the date of our death is fixed. But that date is not set arbitrarily by God. Rather, he sees what we will do and knows what this will lead to. For example, God may know from all eternity whether we would choose to live a healthy life or an unhealthy one, whether we would engage in risky behaviors or live prudently and safely. He has also known from all eternity how the individuals and wider human family around us would freely choose to act; whether individuals would act recklessly around us or not, whether our nation would engage in war or not, and whether we would live in a time marked with disease, famine and natural disasters or not. Knowing all this, God also knows the date of our death, but he has not set it in a way unrelated to our free-will choices and the choices of others.
And therefore, regarding this current plague of COVID-19, God knows and expects us to freely fight it and take prudent measures to protect ourselves and others. And while he has always known what we would do or not, we are not fatalistically forced to follow a script or be like marionettes controlled by him. He does surely know what our action or inaction will result in, but his knowledge does not cancel our freedom. Rather it takes into account our free-will actions, and God’s plans move forward. God is not thwarted by our foolish decisions, for he has always known them, planned accordingly and can make a way out of no way.
Thus while one may have questions about the effectiveness of wearing a mask or social distancing, this sort of fatalistic “theological” posturing — a form of double-predestination rejected by the Church — does not yield a reasonable objection.
Question: Why does the priest cover his hands with a veil when giving the benediction at Eucharistic adoration?
— Joyce Manion, Philadelphia
Answer: Every other blessing a priest gives is from his hands, consecrated and joined to Christ’s hands at ordination. And so Christ usually blesses us through the hands of the priest with gestures like the sign of the cross, extended hands or the laying on of hands. But in Eucharistic adoration, the priest holds Christ himself. Thus the priest covers his hands to signify that this blessing comes directly from Jesus truly present in the sacred host, not through the hands of the priest.