I realize that the first day of April is usually marked by pranks and misinformation. And I usually participate. But I’m putting aside the levity of April Fools Day to bring you a message as we begin the month of April and are quickly moving toward Palm Sunday and the Rites of Holy Week.
First of all, Lent is not over! We are still obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays. Good Friday will still be a day of mandatory fasting. I strongly encourage all our parishioners to take to heart that being physically separated from our church building does not give us license to despoil our spiritual lives by throwing to the curb one of the most important and powerful liturgical seasons!
I was reminded in my reading a couple of days ago about some of the Catholic mission communities and how they survived not just over the course of days, but over decades and even centuries. After the martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and his companions in Nagasaki in 1597, the Church in Japan was forced underground. Hundreds of thousands of the faithful lost their lives, and many more spent their entire lives never seeing a priest, never setting foot in a church building, being present at a Mass or receiving Holy Communion. For some communities, this desert journey lasted almost 300 years! But when Japan once again opened itself up to the Faith, a thriving Catholic community was discovered! The people themselves had taken to evangelizing one another, catechizing, teaching the Scriptures, and baptizing in secret, longing for the day when they could once again breathe the free air of Christianity. They had never seen a priest, or attended a Mass, or had even gone to confession! But they knew the Faith well enough that when those important aspects of the life of the Church were once again made available to them, they recognized them for what they were, and were nourished in ways that I dare say we take for granted. The story of the Church in Japan is a powerful testament to just how critical the lay apostolate is in these times, and it underscores how fundamental to the Catholic life is that which I’ve been talking about now for a few years: the Domestic Church!
If you’re still uncertain about what the domestic church is all about, then log on to Formed.org and check out the book “The Little Oratory” by David Clayton and Leila Lawler.
So, that first thing: take the initiative to give to one another what you cannot get from your parish right now: catechesis, evangelization, devotion and prayer.
Second, understanding the preeminent value of the Holy Eucharist to the life of the Christian, I soon hope to be exposing the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day for people to venerate, provided that you maintain the social-distancing protocols established. From 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. the Blessed Sacrament will be able to be adored through the side door of the parish office/convent building at St. Patrick’s, the door that is right there at the parking lot. Anyone is welcome to come and either park in the lot by the door (so you can adore from your car) or to stand/sit/kneel in the lot—just be safe because there are cars present! Please do not go up onto the stoup, as it will obscure others’ view. The door will be locked, to ensure the safety of the Holy Eucharist. And most importantly, please, please, PLEASE be mindful of the guildelines regarding social distancing.
Third, I am available to hear confessions, so please make use of that availability. Call or email to set up an appointment. Our priests have been advised not to establish regular times, as it may encourage people to congregate. Personally, I think that’s a bit optimistic, given the rate of confessions heard in our parishes these days! But I digress.
Finally, and I hate to be making this appeal under the circumstances, but please do not withhold your sacrificial giving from your parishes during this time. The great fear that many of our pastors have right now is that once this whole COVID-19 pandemic has ended, will many of our parishes be able to reopen? I don’t want that to be the case for us. I’m very grateful to those of you who have heeded my request to mail in your offerings, and I hope that others will do the same. Small parishes like ours simply do not have the resources to carry on for very long without their weekly collections to help pay the bills.
Friends, in all this, don’t lose heart, and don’t forget where our strength truly comes from: from God alone! We can take all the precautions we are instructed to, keep our distance, work from home…but ultimately, as a people of Faith, we have to put ourselves in God’s hands, recognizing that our Creator is ultimately in control. We might ask the question about why God lets things like this happen, and perhaps that’ll be a discussion for another time.
But right now, I want all of you to re-evaluate just what it means to be a Catholic, to be a people who are in the world but not of the world—a people who draws its strength not from a human source, but from the supernatural grace of the Sacraments and the Supreme God to which they lead us. If our community of faith is to remain strong in times of trial, then we cannot rely on gimmicks or fads…they will utterly fail us in the end. Our reliance must be on God alone. It’s a tremendous leap of faith, and these days stand to show us just how much we need to make our own the prayer of the father of the possessed child in the 9th chapter of Mark’s Gospel: “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.”
May God bless you and keep you now and always.