[All public liturgies in the State of Ohio are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. This will be one part homily and one part pastoral message to my parishioners.]
If you spent time reading the sacred scriptures for this Sunday, I’m sure one line of the Gospel jumped out at you: “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” This was the first reaction of some of the Pharisees when they learned that Jesus healed the vision of the blind man on the sabbath. But for us today this is likely the first time in any of our lives that Sunday Masses have been temporarily suspended. And thanks to our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, our understanding of how the sacrifice of the mass is the source of our salvation, and our sheer love and desire to respond to what God has done for us… so there is likely an underlying nervousness about whether we ourselves are keeping the Sabbath. To not be able to celebrate Mass together is truly a devastating thing that should make us feel unbalanced and strange. But as we know from the example of Christ himself that the sabbath was made for humans. This global pandemic can spread through people with no symptoms and no reason to believe they are dangerous to others. It has a high mortality rate for many people but can also easily hospitalize a young and healthy person. For all that we know through science and medicine, if we gathered together for Mass at the start of this pandemic we could be judged harshly on another commandment: “Thou shall not kill.” In this temporary and necessary time to be physically distant from each other and separated from the sacraments which give us life and salvation it is crucial that we cling to faith, that we still live out the commandment to keep the Lord’s day holy as best we can in our own homes.
I can offer you places to watch a mass streamed live or recorded, be it from the Diocese of Cleveland, from Bp. Barron’s popular Word on Fire, or from many other sources including some of our local parishes (like my home parish!). I can offer you apps to help you pray throughout the week, like Pray as you go, or Laudate, or Click to pray, or iBreviary. But I also hope that in addition to these things you will place yourself before God and speak honestly to Him. More than ever before, this is a time that we need to cry out to him with all the emotions, the fears, the anxieties, and the frustrations. We need to approach him as a good Father, as the one who walks alongside us in life and who we willing share everything with.
If you have a family with young ones, this is the time to sit with them and pray. Read the Gospel to them! Ask them what message they heard in it, and what they wonder about! It takes tremendous vulnerability to share your personal prayer with another person and even your own flesh and blood, but from that comes intimacy and trust, the foundations of good family life.
In the days and weeks ahead, it is my fear that we will struggle with something else in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. The disciples of Jesus asked him “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” As this pandemic worsens I can only assume it will become very real to us as people we know and love get sick. We will be confronting the reality of death far more than we will want to. I hope I am wrong. But if that comes to pass… often in suffering we ask the question of “Why? What is the cause of this? Why is this happening?”. Jesus answers in this Gospel that it’s not our fault, nor is it God’s desire. The action of God is to heal, to bring people to the light of faith. Do not look for God as the answer to suffering. Look to God as the one suffering with you from His Cross, look to God as the one promising you eternal life beyond the veil of death.
And now some parish business…
Why don’t we stream/record Mass like your home parish during this time? Well, because I don’t have the setup for one thing. Personally I only have a webcam for my computer. Without a good camera or two, some tripod stands for them, and a solid internet connection in the Church… it wouldn’t be easy. I’m sure the school has a camera but I can only use it if it wasn’t purchased with any government funds. But those are excuses I could solve if I needed to. My real hangup is that there are already many options for you to watch a streamed or recorded Mass, and the liturgy is what’s important, not me. So for right now I would rather put my energy into staying in touch and encouraging you all by other ways. Is that the right decision? I have no idea.
Why is the church locked? Right now I can only have the church open for people to pray in private if I’m sanitizing the whole building, from handles down to hymnals, at the end of each day (per the Diocese). I don’t have the manpower or the cleaning supplies to do that. Plus the sanitizing we were doing was starting to beat up the wood pews. It breaks my heart knowing that a handful of people have come to the doors only to find them locked. All I can say is that this is temporary. And that Jesus told us something about going to our rooms and praying in private (Matthew 6:6).
How are you doing, Father? First off thank you to the many, many people who have emailed me with support and encouragement and to ask that exact question. I’m doing alright. I’m healthy, the staff is healthy, and we’ve switched around operations so almost everyone can work from home. Beyond that, it’s a bit of an existential anxiety to work through. My vision of priesthood starts with the sacraments. So to not have the role and that purpose right now everyday is very disturbing. I worry about you all and how to be present to you through this time.
And lastly a favor. I want to avoid doing mass emails as much as possible. If I do that too many people will start to ignore them so I need to save those for major announcements. So for your other St. Mark friends, maybe ask if they found my homily this week? There was a chance to sign up for my mailing list a week ago, and we will have this posted to our Facebook page and hopefully our website, but word of mouth helps.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.