A Symphony of Challenges
Not since the influenza pandemic of 1918 has the health of people worldwide been so seriously threatened as it has by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. During the flu pandemic of 1918 approximately 20-50 million people died worldwide with 675,000 deaths occurring in the U.S. As of this writing (April 2021), the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over 2.7 million lives worldwide, and over 550,000 in the U.S. What the final tally of deaths will be is anyone’s guess. Despite the availability of several vaccines, it is likely that many more will die before the virus is fully under control. Besides the tragedy of deaths, we have experienced, and will likely continue to experience for a while longer, a symphony of challenges – unemployment, financial ruin, long-term health problems, emotional trauma, suicide, isolation, hopelessness, spiritual dysfunction, and many other challenges to our well-being.
Throughout these unprecedented challenges, the parishes in this diocese, and certainly ours, have had to respond in ways appropriate to the evolving needs of each faith community. Fundamentally, we have been called upon to offer a place to worship and to encounter Jesus in each other in an environment that was both safe and reverent. Onto the shoulders of the pastor fell the responsibility to provide for the safety of the parishioners and to maintain financial viability while offering reasonable access to the sacraments within the context of the evolving needs and challenges of the local faith community – all as the advertised risks of the virus were changing, often in contradictory ways. No one had eve experienced such a dynamic and so the responses to the challenges had to be developed with discernment, prayer, and consultation. In this parish, our pastor relied on the parish clergy and staff, as well as on a handful of other trusted advisors to address the ongoing challenges we faced.
Gratefully, most of our parishioners have cooperated with our efforts to address our own symphony of challenges. We have received innumerable written and verbal expressions of support. Also, an ever-increasing number of people have been attending our daily in-person Mass, our daily livestreamed Mass, and our many Sunday Masses. At the same time, the outpouring of financial support has been unexpected and humbling. While we are not at the offertory levels we were prior to the pandemic, we and the school are financially stable. The counsel of the professional and dedicated members of our Finance Council has enabled us to balance the demands on and availability of our financial resources so that we can remain reasonably financially healthy. “Thank you” does not seem to do justice to the great outpouring of support that we have received from so many of you. We have been humbled and edified by your love and support. Know that we will not forget you or your loved ones. You are an important part of our parish family and we will continue to work together for the greater glory of our Lord.
A few individuals seem to have struggled to adapt to the uncertainties and threats that the pandemic imposed on all of us. Change made some uncomfortable with efforts to keep everyone safe, as Church and society sought to adapt to the risks the pandemic imposed on us. It is not our role to judge their motives. Perhaps they adapted to the stresses of the moment as best as they could. No matter what, we will continue to offer a spiritual home to everyone who seeks one here. We will continue to pray for everyone affected by this unprecedented threat to our well-being and we are grateful to those who made everything more bearable.
It would be a spiritual good to spend time with Jesus to reflect on how we have responded to the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has it affected us as Church? How has it changed me? What have I learned about myself and about others? How has my faith sustained me?” These and other questions could inspire us to grow from our experiences.
As the parish clergy and staff continue to reflect on our experiences during the pandemic, we acknowledge that the ministries and activities that we will support in the future will change. We do not yet know fully how and when. But we will proceed in the assurance that God is with us. After all, as a people of faith, we know that there is always light. Amanda Gorman closed her recent Inaugural Poem with these inspiring words:
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
We are called always to be a light for others, to light up the world with the love, mercy, and openness to others of Jesus, our Light and our Hope. We are an Easter people, full of light and hope, called to transform the world with and in Jesus. To that end, it is appropriate for us to reflect on these words by Pope Francis in his Easter 2020 message:
“Christ, my hope, is risen!. This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God. The Risen Lord is also the Crucified One, not someone else. In his glorious body he bears indelible wounds: wounds that have become windows of hope. Let us turn our gaze to him that he may heal the wounds of an afflicted humanity.”
May the Light of Christ be with you and your loved ones, always!
– Father Len, Deacon John, and the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School