It is hard to believe that as I write this column we have arrived in the month of September. In many ways, it has been a difficult 2020; and I don’t think we are going to grieve its departure come December 31st. Nonetheless, before we get to that point, we have already arrived at the beginning of a new school year which is seen both as opportunity and struggle — opportunity to move forward in safety and not allow COVID-19 to lock us away, while at the same time society struggles to keep one’s neighbor safe from the ravages of the disease.
Pope Francis in his August General Audiences has been speaking about the effects of the present global pandemic. In his opening catechesis on August 5, Pope Francis shared the following ideas with the English-speaking listeners:
“In responding to the grave challenges caused by the present pandemic, we Christians are guided by the wisdom and strength born of the virtues of faith, hope and love. As God’s gifts, these virtues heal us and enable us in turn to bring Christ’s healing presence to our world. They can inspire in us a new and creative spirit to help us face today’s deeply rooted physical, social and spiritual infirmities and change the unjust and destructive behaviors that threaten the future of our human family. Today the Church seeks to continue the Lord’s healing ministry, not only to individuals but also to society as a whole. She does this by proposing a number of principles drawn from the Gospel, which include: the dignity of the human person, the common good, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of goods, solidarity, subsidiarity and the care for our common home.”
In light of these principles, I would like to turn to two simple practices that can make a difference in our homes, our schools, and our communities in the present moment: wearing a mask and giving one another space. Some people have asked me to modify some of the protocols regarding Mass attendance, specifically giving contact information, wearing masks, the social distancing norms including attendance numbers, omitting the sign of peace, the suspension of choirs, and even the giving of Holy Communion under only the form of the sacred host. Despite the earnestness in which they are asked, the answer for the good of one’s neighbor must be “No.”
Just last week I was forwarded an article written by Physician Members of the Thomistic Institute Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments & Pastoral Care on the website Real Clear Science. In it they conclude that, “the data suggest that when a community follows proper guidelines, as Catholic dioceses have, people can receive the spiritual comfort of church attendance while preventing the spread of the virus.” Importantly, they note that, “While nothing during a pandemic is risk-free, these guidelines mean that Catholics (and public officials) may be confident that it’s reasonably safe to come to Church for Mass and the sacraments.”
Yet, key to such results is the care we take in observing the protocols which are preventive measures. I wish to emphasize this fact because some are using such protocols as political fodder. In my mind, there is only one important factor and that is how can I better love my neighbor. If wearing a mask in certain circumstances and keeping social distance will assist in their betterment so be it, even if it is simply a case of mental ease or comfort. In fact, the word “Amen” we use so regularly in church means just that, “so be it.” If I say “Amen” to the words “The Body of Christ,” what should my “Amen” be to the one made in the image and likeness of God near me?
To our young people, I would like to offer an encouraging word as a new school year begins in the midst of uncertainty concerning the coronavirus. Just as we heard recently in Matthew’s gospel about Peter’s attempt to walk on water which left him with a sinking feeling, so, too, in that same account we see when one reaches out to Jesus, he supports us! Not only that, but as Jesus gets into the boat with his disciples the storminess that surrounds them dies down. Don’t forget in the days ahead that Jesus is not asking you to walk on water, but he would like a place in your boat!
Moreover, Jesus’ own respectful and helpful conduct towards Peter in a tough situation is a model for you and me in the present health crisis. One may be tempted to disregard “the rules” because “I” know best and no one is going to curtail “my” rights. However, what is true discipleship and a sign of wisdom is to think of the other and not just one’s self. Seemingly otherwise healthy young people are getting COVID-19, not just those over 65 years of age and with pre-existing conditions. With this in mind, please watch out for each other and remember that your actions can have both a positive and negative effect on those you encounter on life’s journey.
As September rolls around, all of us in different ways may feel stress and pressure building. Whether it is the reopening of educational institutions and work places and the concerns which accompany such action, arranging for child or elder care, the coronavirus that continues to interrupt and disrupt our daily living and routines, the economic forecast, the approach of winter, and the list could be added to… these things can have an effect on us like a dark, dreary day.
That is why it is more important than ever not to forget our prayer lives even in the midst of reopening and the need to approach the Church’s Sacraments from which flow heavenly graces. Grace, that is, “gift of God.” That is what God wants to share with us on the path of life as he comes to us as the Good Samaritan. In turn, we are invited not to forget our own part in being Good Samaritans to those we meet along the way!
Have a blessed September!