Five years ago, I had two major abdominal surgeries only months apart. While I’d seen plenty of emergency room visits as a kid (mostly due to playground accidents), along with a number of dental procedures (mostly due to chocolate), I’d never experienced anything like those two hospitalizations.
In both cases, I wasn’t exactly a model patient. I pestered the doctors to discharge me as soon as possible and hobbled out of the hospital with half-packed bags. Once at home, I logged onto my laptop to catch up on work, complained to friends that I wasn’t permitted to drive for several weeks and insisted on walking several blocks to Mass — prompting a rebuke from my pastor, who advised me to “stay put” until I’d recovered more fully.
A friend who worked in the medical field finally sat me down one evening, looked at me sternly and denounced me as “ridiculous.”
“Your body needs to heal at a deep level,” she said, explaining that I was putting too much pressure on muscles that required time and rest to mend.
I realized that she was right, and although I didn’t scale back completely, I slowly began to heed her advice: “Be gentle.”
That same counsel recently came to mind as we now prepare to return to the pews for Mass. Our hearts and souls are aching to receive the Eucharist once again, and to worship together in our beloved parish churches. How cruel the coronavirus has been in driving us from the gatherings, both spiritual and social, that are fundamental to our lives.
And yet when we reenter our churches, for the common good we will need to do so in ways that are unfamiliar to us — masked, seated apart, unable to “greet one another with a holy kiss,” as Scripture so often urges.
Some will not be able to come back at all, or at least for quite some time: pre-existing medical conditions and other risk factors will compel them to remain at home.
Debates over how to respond to the pandemic, and even over what to believe about the disease itself, have raged since the illness emerged. But with more than 5.8 million infected and some 360,000 killed so far, and with the global economy reeling, we can at least agree that we have been profoundly wounded, and by a molecule less than 0.1% the width of a human hair.
Our healing is assured, if we trust in and cooperate with the Lord, but our collective convalescence will be gradual one. During that process — as awkward, uncomfortable and contentious as it may be — we must “(bear) with one another through love” through “all humility and gentleness, with patience” (Eph 4:2).
In the English language, the very word “gentle” points to unity, deriving as it does from the Latin gentilis, “belonging from the same family.”
The body of Christ is a scarred one indeed at this moment, but also one gloriously redeemed by the radical love of God — who took on the flesh of a child to heal our own, through a Spirit that (as St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us) “comes gently.”
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