March 25th

During this time of self-isolation, I have been reading Dickens again, partly from nostalgia and mostly because it’s good to read about good and evil and bleakness and optimism and to know that at the end it will all turn out all right. Reading Barnaby Rudge today, I came across a reference to March 25th “which, as most people know to their cost, is, and has been time out of mind, one of those unpleasant epochs termed quarter-days. On this twenty-fifth of March, it was John Willet’s pride annually to settle, in hard cash, his account with a certain vintner and distiller in the city of London.”

It got me thinking that it would be a good thing these days to have an annual account with a vintner and distiller.

Settling into the nostalgia I got to thinking about how as a child of about ten years I had memorized the entire catechism of the Presbyterian Church which I pursued because the Minister of our church paid a dollar—a lot of money at the time – as a reward for this feat and also because I liked the language. I particularly liked the question What is the chief end of Man? The answer was Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.  Somehow I took that to mean that we should all have a good time, and in the following years I did too much of that.

Although I was never christened and continue to be a heathen, I was happy to memorize Corinthians I, Chapter 13, for my Explorers’ group. I liked phrases like, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Sounding brass! Tinkling cymbal!

Charity interested me because, when I was very young, because my mother gave me three illustrated Sunday School cards from her youth which featured the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. I loved them and likely still have those cards somewhere, probably in one of the boxes labelled “Nostalgia.” The angelic creatures on those cards were all beautiful and saintly with sweet smiles and uplifted gazes but the one I liked best was Charity, because she had a basket over her arm and actually seemed to be doing something helpful, not just thinking about it.

As a teenager I learned about the Seven Deadly Sins. I could recite them without hesitation and, from time to time, practised all of them. Pride. Ire. Gluttony. Sloth. Lust. Envy. Greed. It occurs to me now that those are the things that have brought us to where we are now in this strange time of the coronavirus.

I think there is a change happening these days. I find evidence of much kindness, a good deal of charity. And, of course, we hope. And there is faith that we will get through these uncertain times. Those three theological virtues have been linked with the four cardinal virtues to form the Seven Heavenly Virtues. Faith. Hope. Charity. Prudence. Justice. Temperance. Courage. The opposite of the Seven Deadly Sins. We may need all of these to see us through the coming weeks and months.

Self-isolation is a time of reflection. Many people are saying that they now find what they had thought was important is, in fact, not what really matters. Many are displaying charity and courage and other thoughtful behaviours. All the Heavenly Virtues may gain popularity. And, as the bible says, the greatest of these is charity. And it has never been needed more.

At the moment, I am not quite sure about Temperance, however. I find a little wine helps, and I hope that, like John Willett in Barnaby Rudge, I will still be around next March 25thand will be quite ready to settle my account with the vintners and distillers.

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