In this message, Fr. Wegner suggests that Catholics see this time as one of opportunity to gain grace, and invites faithful to send in their prayer intentions for the priests to remember in their daily Masses.
The world is afraid right now. People worry about their own health, the health of those dear to them, and the ones they care for. The economy is close to a standstill. Businesses are struggling and many employers have laid workers off. Insecurity is the master of humanity.
In two weeks we have seen public life change drastically. Many local governments banned all unnecessary business and human interaction. “Stay-at-Home” orders or “Shelter-in-Place” rules enforce distancing people from each other. Airlines limit their services; many work from home. Many of the faithful cannot go to church; children are not in school. Group activities and sports are canceled; restaurants are closed. There is no theatre and no concerts. Nothing is as it was two weeks ago! The situation affects and destabilizes everyone. When everything changes, this can only be expected…
Facing this unprecedented viral event, parameters shift and many questions arise:
“I would like to go to church, receive communion, and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. But is this safe for me and for others? How can I fulfill my Sunday obligation at home?”
“I want to help my neighbor. But can I do so without putting him or myself at risk? Can I do so with the restrictive government orders in place?”
“I work from home now. There goes my routine; it limits collaboration. How can I continue to fulfill my duties at work? The new situation disturbs my children. They need my attention. How can I do my work and give them the attention they need?”
“Now my husband and children are around the whole day. He used to leave for work in the morning; my children left for school and I had at least a little time to take care of the little ones and the house. How can I cope with the new situation and respond to all the new and different needs? How can I assume, on top of all the extra work, the role of teacher for my kids? In the afternoon, the kids played with others and then they came home happy and tired. What can I have them do now?”
It wasn’t long ago that everything seemed in perfect order. Everyone lived their own life; now we find ourselves companions in distress. We have to talk, to listen, and to understand. We are all struggling in a unique way. We are not used to this situation: tension grows, misunderstandings arise, impatience shows. How can we cope with the situation?
The downsides of the pandemic weigh heavily on us! Fear and insecurity show in different ways for different people: one freezes of anxiety while another one is in denial, cracking jokes and downplaying the gravity of the situation. Others do not know how to respond, and they simply shut down from being overwhelmed.
But for us, as Catholics, this situation comes with unknown opportunities as well! If we change our perspective, we discover a multitude of challenging but edifying elements in this situation. How we live now differs from holidays and leisure. “Normal life” has changed for us all. In a way, we have much now that we were longing for in the past. Who didn’t want to have more time for and with our families? Most of us no longer have to rush off to work every morning. Who didn’t want to stay home with the children, see them doing their schoolwork, and help your spouse? We all want to know what matters to our children, to spend quality time with them, to have them be with their parents in daily life. In the evening, we’ve always wanted to say our family prayers together. But for some, perhaps external factors compromised them. Who hasn’t always wanted peaceful moments between husband and wife, moments where thoughts and desires could be shared, time to discuss and foster mutual understanding and love?
Much of this is now possible if we can only see it. As soon as we let go of our former lives (even if only a few weeks ago!) and we accept, adapt, and even benefit from the new situation, we will see the graces still hidden to our eyes. This situation forces us into our homes, unites our families, brings parents closer to their children, and unites the spouses. It invites us to learn to share what’s on our minds, to communicate what we fear and to become a genuine family. The fear is present, yes; we all have to deal with it! But we are not alone. The support we can and must get from those dear to us is infinitely precious and consoling. If we adapt well to the actual circumstances, charity and virtue will increase. If we cannot change our perspective, I fear that several families might be at risk.
The crisis we live through, this threat that encompasses everyone, offers a true Christian challenge. “Social distancing” is the phrase of the times: it is imperative not to spread the virus, not to get infected, and so on. This phrase implies that we must distance ourselves from others and only care for ourselves. But is this true on the spiritual level? For modern man, “distance” between people is negative; “closeness” is positive. Modern man considers being informal and casual as the only way of being truly and fully human. But is he right? Aren’t most of our sins of impatience, of anger, of detraction, of lack of charity committed against those we think we are close to? Our family members? Our friends? Our colleagues? Aren’t most of the sins against the sixth commandment not the result of this indiscrete and egotistic closeness?
There is thus a tremendous opportunity for us by observing “social distancing.” From a distance, we might see our neighbor as he is, as somebody who has intrinsic value even if there is no benefit to us. Maybe we will see our neighbor as someone who might be in need and who relies on us. Perhaps we will see him as another person out of our reach, independent, different, and, despite his frailty, valuable. This should help us appreciate him more! We will learn respect and awe for our neighbor, listen to him, take into account his wishes, accommodate his desires, help him in his needs. Listening to the fears of another or doing shopping for an elderly person who can’t in these circumstances does not offend the rule of “social distancing,” but it is worth much more than a cheap hug. Showing respect, appreciation, and concern for each other is a great consolation for all that are in need, and most gratifying for those that help.
Finally, and most importantly, we also want to look at our spiritual lives. We have often considered the loneliness of Our Lord and meditated on the sleeping apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. “When He rose from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow” (Lk. 22:45). Our Lord invites us to prayer. He offers us the time. He might take away the possibility of assisting at Sunday or even daily Mass; this might even extend to the ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter. This is a legitimate and profound sorrow! Providence, however, has arranged this for us. Our Lord now invites us to a private and intimate effort to unite ourselves and our families with him. Do we succumb to sorrow? Or do we take up the challenge of being cut off from the sacraments which work ex opere operato? Where, for a certain time, we cannot rely on the liturgy’s beauty to elevate our souls, we can offer to Our Lord our poor, private, personal, and most intimate prayers. As weak as they might be, they are precious to Him and valuable for the sanctification of our souls.
Be assured of all the support the priests in the District can give. We will arrange whatever we can to keep our churches open and we guarantee as much as possible the administration of the sacraments. We will stay as close as possible to you! Please keep us, and all the suffering, in your prayers as well.
Fr. Jurgen Wegner