These are unprecedented days in our world. A deadly virus. Sports events cancelled from tee-ball right up to the professional leagues. Only the most basic economic activity taking place.
And now, perhaps the most shocking for faithful Catholics, is the temporary suspension of public Mass.
It feels like a punch in the gut to hear this steady drip of news everyday: more cases, more deaths, more limits on daily life.
In the face of all this, a reasonable question may be: Isn’t this precisely the time that we should have Mass? Shouldn’t we trust that God won’t allow people to become sick in church?
As Catholics, we are called to be good citizens, and the Great Commandment compels us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love of neighbor right now involves limiting ourselves to very small groups. Hopefully if we are all intentional about this right now, the situation will have a quick resolution.
Yet it seems the world has changed this week, and our former ways of doing things will be radically altered.
But isn’t that the point of Lent, this liturgical season in which we find ourselves? God does not want us to remain tepid, stagnant, and complacent. He has made us for greatness, which is another way of saying he made us for himself.
Therefore, if this situation which is beyond anyone’s control is going to change us, that is not something to be mourned. We’ve become so accustomed to the way life is, with its hectic pace, that perhaps we are unable to imagine something better. And isn’t that what God always desires to bring about?
The real contagion, after all, is not covid-19, but our human pride and the sins we use to numb ourselves from reality.
So many things have been taken away from us, and it seems cruel that holy Communion and the public celebration of Mass must be added to the list. Yet Christ is still present to his people. He never abandons us.
The holy Eucharist continues to be celebrated by priests, who perhaps will be renewed in their love for the priesthood in these days. Our churches will remain open for prayer and adoration. We are still offering the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. We will still baptize. And we will go boldly into a hospital room if someone is dying, even, yes, of covid-19.
In the world, this slowdown could bring about stronger families, more authentic friendships and hearts less concerned with fulfilling our own needs and more with caring for the poor.
In the church, this strange experience might be a catalyst for real conversion, greater appreciation of the Eucharist and a new missionary zeal.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel. I don’t think any of us realized the reality of those words when we heard them on Ash Wednesday, three weeks (feels like three years) ago. Yet that is exactly the point: when we get used to a certain routine, we miss the full import of what we’re doing – and we fail to envision how God wants to renew us.
Just imagine, when public Masses are restored, churches filled with faithful people renewed in their love for God and others, their devotion to the Eucharist, their appreciation for what actually matters in life.
That’s a day we can all look forward to in hope – and by the light of the Spirit, we can see it even now!
Father Eric J. Banecker is parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish, Broomall.
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