Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

A Misunderstood Rat

02-02-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

As Jesus began his Public Ministry, the first sign of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom was healing of the sick. Since that time, the Church has always had a primary concern for the sick. That motivation spurred the development of hospitals and clinics to care for the sick and until very recently most hospitals were run by religious organizations. Part of my seminary training included internships at a variety of institutions, including hospitals. The hospital internship required spending time in each department: Administration, Finance, Pre-Op, Post-Op, the Operating Room, Labor and Delivery etc. What I found was that the most important department in a hospital was Infection Control. No matter how successful an operation was, or how it was paid for, or how beautiful the facility was, if you got an infection your health could be seriously threatened and you could end up sicker than when you first were admitted.

All this came to mind with the outbreak of the coronavirus in China and the public health disasters unfolding in cities like Portland, LA and San Francisco emanating from vast numbers of homeless people living on the city streets. Over a hundred years ago, in the early twentieth century, with vast numbers of people living in close proximity in cities, one of the great feats of improving public health was that we learned how to control the spread of infectious diseases. So much so that we eradicated most of them. Until now.

Two basic principles that govern good Public Health Policy are proper sanitation and sewage. Today we place our trash and garbage in bags and bins and it is collected on a regular basis. (BTW Tempe has a fantastic Sanitation Dept.) The development of sewage systems now takes raw sewage away from us. Raw sewage and trash left to bake in the sun attracts insects and rodents who spread infection to humans. Hence good Vector Control helps prevent the spread of diseases as well. Sadly, with large amounts of homeless people living on the streets, defecating and urinating on the streets, we are witnessing the rise and spread of infectious diseases. Large outbreaks of hepatitis, the return of Typhus and Bubonic Plague are putting some of our cities in pre-twentieth century mode.

This is being permitted to happen in the name of a delusional notion of civil rights and compassion. It seems hardly compassionate to allow fellow humans to live in such degrading conditions. And while our civil rights are precious, they are not absolute. Sometimes our rights have restrictions, like you can’t defecate where ever you like or create a public health hazard by strewing trash. I’m not sure what some of our City officials are thinking but they could use a primer in Public Health Policy 101 and a reminder that Albert Camus’ novel The Plague was a cautionary tale not a how to guide.

On top of this we are now dealing with the coronavirus, which has the potential to be as bad or worse as the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Again, let’s hope our Public Officials apply all that we have learned these past one hundred years or so about what constitutes good Public Health practices and not return us to pre-twentieth century mode.

This being the Chinese Year of the Rat may be making things worse. Let me explain. The Chinese Zodiac is a bit complex and it is actually three zodiac cycles put together: 12 Animal, 5 Earth and 10 Celestial cycles. I have no idea how it all works but this year is the Year of not just the Rat but the Golden or Metal Rat and the three cycles convergence this year is the worst possible alignment. So, for the Chinese, this indicates a year of suffering. While Christians and most Westerners put no stock in the Zodiac, many of the Chinese do. This bleak and foreboding Chinese Zodiac forecast for 2020 can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can see the problem: if you believe the Zodiac is controlling or influencing events on earth then you start to act accordingly. It’s like the man who is walking down the street smoking and he sees a barrel full of water, or what he thinks is water and tosses his smoke in the barrel. Kaboom! The water wasn't water, it was gasoline. We often act on what we perceive the reality to be rather than what it actually is. That can cause panic and delusion. Large amounts of people acting on a faulty perception of reality can cause lots of unintentional damage and suffering. Plus, the Zodiac provides the perfect excuse for the government if this gets even more out of hand: we were just unlucky rather than incompetent.

So, I will throw my lot in with fact based Public Health Policy and Practice and Gospel based compassion that cares for the sick and suffering rather than letting them live on the street in squalor. Pray for quick healing of the sick in China and that that will be a sign to them of the full arrival of the Kingdom of God in China rather than a dirty rat.


Fr. John B.