Easter peace and joy!
From the very start of this COVID-19 pandemic, you were well aware of my reluctance to decree the prohibition of Masses with a congregation as a way to stem the tide of the pandemic. Pastoral prudence demanded that it be done to save lives of which we are all stewards. Masses continued to be offered without the congregation, and our parishioners followed the liturgy virtually through livestreaming although not all could do that. I make an act of faith each day begging the Lord to accept our intercession despite the limitations of our offering. May our people’s fast from sacramentally receiving the Eucharist be a sacrifice pleasing to Him.
This situation of virtual Masses cannot be the status quo. It was only a reactive pastoral response to a public health emergency.
Pope Francis himself said recently, “This is the church in a difficult situation that the Lord is allowing, but the ideal of the Church is always with the people and with the sacraments.”
Further the Pope said one’s relationship with Jesus “is intimate, it is personal, but it is in a community,” and this closeness to Christ without community, without the Eucharist, without the people of God assembled together and “without the sacraments is dangerous.”
It is dangerous, he said, because people could start living their relationship with God “for just myself, detached from the people of God.”
“The Church, the sacraments and the people of God are concrete.” The virtual participation of the people in the liturgy cannot be the status quo.
The significance of the above teachings cannot be understated in the midst of the quarantine and the ever present threat of infection and danger of death. Indeed, the people of God need more pastoral care and with it the opportunity to
worship. The mental health of many is at risk if our people are left alone in their homes without any guidance and care for the soul and the mind.
In times like what we are going through, we priests must be ministers of healing; the church buildings must be symbols of resilient hope against all odds; and the community should be sure fonts of fortitude in adversity.
Deprived of jobs, worship, school, social gatherings, sports, hobbies, and reasonable leisure, we humans risk our mental equilibrium. In order to maintain our optimum capacity as human beings, we need the spiritual and moral support of the Church community and the Christian neighborhood.
Clearly, the pandemic of COVID-19 has raised our levels of fear of isolation and anxiety from being alone. It has raised questions about our worth and some have entered depression, wondering if anyone would notice if they are gone. Therefore we need to be aware of the dynamic and impacts of this unseen mental spiritual problem.
As we rise slowly from this crisis, it is time for us to renew the bonds of our Christian faith as a community. The Church must rise as the lifeline to unite people again in hope and joy against all odds.
Stewards of Life
We are stewards of God and our bodies are gifts from the Creator. The fifth commandment not only forbids us to murder, but also obliges us not to tempt God with our recklessness and imprudence. We must not endanger the lives of our brothers and sisters through our negligence. It is a Christian obligation to obey the quarantine regulations and scrupulously observe hygiene. The observance of sanitation does not spring from self-preservation but from love of neighbor. In caring for one another, we must ensure that we do not infect the healthy.
Recklessness leading to the further spread of the sickness is murder. My life is less important than the life of my parishioners. “Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.”
At this time, the sacrifice being asked of us as stewards is to scrupulously observe hygiene through frequent handwashing, wearing face masks, and social distancing, if we need to gather for worship. This sacrifice should be bearable compared to the deprivation of the Eucharist these past weeks.
Without the sacraments and the assuring presence of us their priests, the life of our deeply distressed people will become unendurable. We need God. Our people need God even more. In this crisis, we need the lifeline of a caring community and the Church MUST be that lifeline NOW. We priests must be JESUS for them.