emplars. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the residualrnChristianity of America has been effeminated and nutrasweetenedrnuntil it is everything Nietzsche railed againstrnand worse, in Walker Percy’s words “a fornication of spirit.” Itrnmay very well be that the “last man” has arrived, when a culturernthat used to launch Crusades kneels before the figures of dyingrnpromiscuous perverts—not in simple compassion, but in activernadmiration.rnBut a Christian is forbidden to think so. We must findrnmeaning even in the debasement of our society, Providentialrnpurpose in the sufferings that we and others endure—for wernbelieve not in a blind organic mechanism of history that grindsrnhigher values into dust, but in Christ the King, Lord of History,rnWho is with us even today. We must reflect, with all duernhumility, on the profound meaning of AIDS in light of therntruths of faith and reason and search for its place in the deeprnthings of God.rnWhat are we, then, to make of the AIDS epidemic? What,rnif any, religious meaning can we derive from the grim spectaclernof an incurable, horrific disease—really, in a sense, thernultimate disease, since it cancels one’s resistance to every sortrnof infection—^with which hundreds of thousands of people arerninfecting themselves and each other, almost exclusively throughrnbehavior that is against God’s will and the natural law? Remember,rnAIDS is not primarily spread by making love to yourrnspouse, going to the dentist, getting a blood transfusion, or evenrnplaying with green monkeys. Every activity that typically transmitsrnthis disease—drug abuse, sodomy, and promiscuous fornicationrn—is an act of rebellion against God and His createdrnorder. But so is every sin; that is the very definition of sin. Andrnevery one of us is a sinner—so why are we not all afflicted withrna plague like AIDS?rnBut, of course, we are. How many 200-year-old men do yournknow? Ah, they were plague victims, all. And where will yournbe in a hundred years? Dead, of course. Each one of us is afflictedrnwith a drawn-out version of AIDS, which operates overrn70 years rather than 10, but which nevertheless afflicts our everyrnmuscle, bone, taste bud, and brain cell with irreversible decay,rnweakening our immunity to diseases and reducing us finallyrnto helpless wraiths at the mercy of doctors and nurses whornare ever more eager for euthanasia to empty our expensivernbed for the next patient.rnThis plague^^leath—is the result of sin, we are taught.rnThe original sin of Eve and Adam brought the bitterness ofrndeath to our frame, whose effects not even the Incarnation andrnResurrection of Christ could undo. Even baptized souls, full ofrnsanctifying grace and reconciled with God, must suffer the bitternessrnof aging and the pains of death, under the long shadowrnof that tree in Eden. Some of them must hang from it as martyrs,rnearning the sweetness of heaven with the tears of suffering.rnNo earthly scene, however innocent and joyful, is free ofrnthe taint of our common curse. What is more touching thanrnthe sight of a six-year-old girl kneeling to receive her first HolyrnCommunion? How easy it is to forget that the Bread of Lifernthat she consumes is the Body and Blood of Jesus, confected byrna priest in a sacrificial rite that reenacts His violent death onrnCalvary. The sacrament’s very efficacy grows from tragedy, asrnevery blessing flows from Christ’s wounded side.rnSo if we go so far as to say that AIDS is a plague sent by Godrnto punish sin, we are not singling anyone out. We would meanrnonly that the general curse of death is applied a little morernquickly in certain cases, as a divine response to particular sortsrnof sin. Is there biblical precedent for that? There is plenty.rnThe story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 (wherein twornentire cities are destroyed because of their inhabitants’ aggressivernhomosexual behavior) is only the most hackneyed example.rnThe Old Testament is full of similar incidents, where thernenemies of Israel are afflicted—sometimes innocent and guiltyrnalike. Of course, “innocence” is always a relative term forrnmen; still we may ask, what did the first-born children of Egyptrnever do to Moses?rnNor is that method of divine instruction limited to the OldrnCovenant: Christ promises worldwide tribulation in Matthewrn24 and elsewhere, while the Apocalypse is one extendedrnprophecy of the destruction of the earth in retribution for sinrnthat must precede His Second Coming and the Last Judgment.rnIn apparitions from La Sallette to Fatima, Catholics believernthat Our Lady predicted untold temporal suffering for thernnations if the world failed to repent. We have since reaped thernwhirlwind she warned us against—the horrors of this century,rnfrom World War I to the slaughters and pogroms that stainedrnall Europe with innocent blood. It seems the price of sin is stillrndeath.rnClearly, no orthodox believer—that is, no Catholic, and nornProtestant or Jew who takes Holy Scripture as the Word ofrnGod, rather than a mere soccer ball for archaeologists and religiousrnstudies professors—can deny that temporal punishmentsrnhave been a part of divine Providence. Records of themrnexist in the Old Testament, and abundant warnings aboutrnthem occur in the New. There is a clear connection establishedrnbetween the commission of grave sins against the divine andrnnatural laws and sudden temporal punishment. There is precedentrnboth for individual condemnation (Onan) and for collectivernpunishment (Sodom in the Old Testament, Babylon inrnthe New).rnMoreover, there seems to be a special connection betweenrntwo particular kinds of sin and the direct expression of God’srnwrath. The first sort of sin is idolatry, frequently characterizedrnas a type of adultery (“whoring after strange gods”). The secondrnsort is sins of the flesh, especially perversions. These arernmost concisely catalogued by St. Paul in I Corinthians 6:9: “Bernnot deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers,rnnor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind [i.e.,rnsodomites] . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” If thatrnsounds like a sociological taxonomy of Western society today,rnmy apologies for everyone’s peace of mind. (Get out yourrnscapulars, folks, and head for those “reconciliation rooms.”)rnBut that is precisely the point, is it not? That our situationrnmight be very grave indeed, that we may have wandered so farrnfrom God’s laws—and nature’s—that we can barely distinguishrnright from wrong. Only a violent reassertion of the lawsrnof reality can revive our dreary consciousness to the fact that wernare bodies living in a world with rules of its own that derive notrnfrom our wishful thinking but from God’s will acting upon fallenrnnature. We do not create our own universes merely by thernway we think about them. Any New Ager who really believesrnthat is welcome to stand in front of my 78 Nova while I amrnbehind the wheel and think my car out of existence. It will berna scientific experiment—Galileo would approve.rnOnly by hitting us with a car, by drawing in huge strokes andrnloud noises for the half-blind and near-deaf (to quote FlanneryrnO’Connor), can the God we have exiled force Himself uponrnour attention. In a society that cares only about results and thernDECEMBER 1994/25rnrnrn