ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
Although I have never reflected on the title of this column I must admit that given our situation today this column has been very appropriately named, The Herald of Hope. As believers, we understand hope comes not from our efforts but from the Lord who stands with us and his Church during all trials and difficulties. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you and behold I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Matthew: 28 19-20)
One of the aspects of this pandemic is that we share a common experience. Our lives have been disrupted, routine activities have ceased and our health has been threatened. We feel alone, isolated from one another and separated from our parishes. There is an underlying mood of fear because of the uncertainty. We long to know when we will return to normal.
We have all had to make adjustments and the Church is no exception. We have done so for the sake of our neighbors, staying at home, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. Our Sunday worship has been suspended with a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass. All activities – Confirmations, Baptisms, First Communions, Graduations, Weddings, Anniversaries, parish gatherings, etc. – have been postponed. Some of the activities were a source of fundraising that assisted the parish in its financial support. Probably the most significant loss has been the inability to receive the Eucharist during this period. A day or two does not go by without receiving an email or letter from a faithful Catholic expressing their longing for the Eucharist. I know that our priests feel the absence of the congregation when celebrating Mass. You can’t image my own feeling on a Sunday when preaching to an empty Cathedral.
Even though constricted, the work of the Church continues. I have a new appreciation for the efforts of St. Paul and the early Church. The disciples were charged to spread the gospel in the face of persecution, lack of resources and extremely limited transportation. They used whatever means available to proclaim Jesus and further the work of the Church.
Recently someone asked me, “Archbishop have you changed your three priorities during this pandemic.” I smiled because I have often said that my three priorities are Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship. I have joked that our archdiocese will be sick of hearing about the priorities. I will know that I have succeeded when I begin to offer a presentation and state what my three priorities are, and watch the lips of the audience move in unison with the words: Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship.
Catholic Identity is who we are. Evangelization is what we do and Stewardship is how we do it. The work of the Church did not stop during any time in our history – wars, persecutions, famine or pandemics. The work may have to be adjusted but we are charged as baptized individuals with a mission to witness to the love of the Lord Jesus. He is our invisible head and we are his visible members. My priorities have continued but adjusted to meet the current crisis.
Catholic Identity has been enhanced during this time through the increase in prayer. Our reliance upon God and the importance of our daily communication helps us to know that we are connected. We can take prayer for granted but, during a crisis, prayer becomes a central activity. We listen to the daily reflections offered by the archdiocese for all the faithful. With the absence of the Eucharist, we have come to appreciate Sunday worship and the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. The discovery of spiritual communion has helped individuals stay connected as they experience the stay-at-home orders. Many Catholic spiritual leaders have worried for a long time over the statistical reports that there is a lack of understanding of the real presence of the Eucharist. We have an opportunity to examine the teaching and understand the gift that we receive in the real presence of Christ. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the central act of worship. It cannot be understood apart from Calvary and in the sacred banquet in which Christ gives himself to us in Holy Communion. The liturgy then sends us forth to live his presence in the world. We have tried to stay creatively connected through the live streaming of the Mass and through participation on Sundays on the public channels (6 and 12) and Heart of the Nation broadcasts that take place every Sunday. We present our Catholic Identity in the exercise of our confidence in the presence of Holy Spirit who is with His Church and us.
Evangelization continues as we make our presence known in the community. There are always three ways to Evangelize. 1) Proclaiming Christ to those who do not know him. 2) Proclaiming Christ to those who have had become complacent. 3) Challenging ourselves to grow in our proclamation. With the type of isolation that we are experiencing, we must find new ways to outreach. One of the unforeseen consequences of this pandemic is the discovery of technology as a source for gatherings. Zoom has become a commonplace occurrence in many parish meetings. Our young people have been very comfortable with modern technology. We older folk are learning how to reach out using these new instruments at our disposal. I invite you to check out the various options on our website – personal declarations of faith to our brothers and sisters in need, letting them know that they are not alone. The use of phone calls, emails and expressions of concern allow us to be Jesus’ presence at this time. Encouraging those who are fearful to pray is a great testimony to faith and reliance on our Lord.
Stewardship is exercising our resources to promote the faith. Most individuals think first of monetary donations and certainly this will be needed to continue the mission for the archdiocese, parishes, schools, the seminary and Catholic charitable institutions (Catholic Charities and others). We have learned how to donate online. But stewardship is more about utilizing our God-given talents and our precious time. There have been creative ways that people have made a difference in the collection and the distribution of food, in the construction of masks, in the acknowledgement for those on the front lines in healthcare facilities or first responders with thankful drive-bys. One of the best aspects of Christianity is our responsibility to think about others. It’s more difficult to do it at this time but most necessary.
We will emerge from this pandemic but we will be changed. We will have new technology to use in the growth of the Church. We will have a new appreciation for the worship and the sacraments we enjoy and we will be richer in our relationship with the Lord if we trust him in all things and in all ways.