Last Saturday I found myself on the phone with the president.
Let me disabuse you of any idea that Catholic Answers is part of an inner circle of influential elites. Since the time of pestilence began, some 600 of my very closest friends in the Church have been on these conference calls, too. They are a “listen-only” means for the administration to communicate through clerical and lay leaders to the broader community of American believers. (They are not for the press, but Catholic News Agency learned of this call from a series of social media posts and reported on it.)
On one call, the surgeon general reminded us to remind people to wash their hands. (Wash your hands.) On another, the attorney general offered assurances about religious liberty. On each call, a few religious leaders (who really are in the inner circle of influential elites!) speak a few words.
Saturday’s call was with the president. As Jackie, Nathanael, and I listened together in the kitchen, Mr. Trump began with an account of his lifelong affection for Catholics. He recalled growing up next to a Catholic church in Queens. He followed with a vigorous defense of his record regarding the Church and the pro-life cause, referencing his 2017 executive order encouraging less-rigorous enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. (I’m waiting for another not-for-profit to test this order!) He spoke of Almighty God, the source of all our strength.
Next on the call was a series of prepared interventions from two cardinals, an archbishop, a bishop, and two archdiocesan school superintendents. They spoke of Catholic schools’ success not only at educating children more cost-efficiently than public schools, but also at helping poorer students with tuition assistance and feeding them lunches. But without more federal help in this crisis, they warned, many schools would have to close.
To these remarks, the president expressed sympathy as did the secretary of education.
As things were wrapping up, the president said, “I have a few more minutes. If anyone has a question, hit star-two.”
So I did. Jackie gave me a terrified look.
I was just done telling her that there was no way in the world I was going to get called on, when the host of the call came on and said, “And next, Mr. President, we have Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers. Go ahead, Mr. Check, you are in talk mode.”
Jackie frantically shooed me into the study because she was sure our Cavalier spaniels were going to start barking, and as I was walking, I introduced myself and described the apostolate’s work. I thanked the president for his leadership and his defense of religious liberty, shut the door and sat down. And then I said:
“Mr. President, all of the policy initiatives that have been enacted in response to this crisis are based on a material understanding of the human person. But there is a deeper and more real understanding of the human person, and that is the metaphysical understanding. What is needed right away and more than anything is a restoration of public worship and a restoration of the dispensing of the sacraments. I am very happy that so many of our bishops are on this call, and I encourage you, Mr. President, to work with them and the governors and municipal authorities in our various dioceses so that we can restore public worship and the dispensing of the sacraments right away.”
There was a silence, and then President Trump said, “Thank you for that. That is a very important matter, and we are working very hard on that.”
I don’t know how often metaphysics comes up on White House conference calls, but this thirty seconds of “the Catholic Church is an institution founded by Jesus Christ for the care of souls” certainly did represent a shift in theme.
I never say things like this, but I do feel it was a “Holy Spirit moment.” Why? Because just that morning my brother, Fr. Paul Check, and I had been talking about the material and metaphysical needs of the human person during this time. We all know which is vastly more important, but here’s a reminder: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). In that conversation, through my brother, Our Lord fulfilled his promise that “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12).
During this crisis, we have all been given a glimpse of the suffering of the faithful in France during the Terror or in Mexico in the 1930s. To be sure, priests and nuns are not losing their heads or falling before firing squads, but many churches are still locked and many of the faithful still do not have access to the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the other sacraments. Nor do we have access to the essential communal aspect of our Catholic faith.
I hope you will join me and the staff of Catholic Answers in urgent prayer for the swift restoration of public worship. The Church’s provision for people’s material needs is important, but its food for souls is what we most need now.
And if you find yourself on a call with somebody influential, feel free to say so.