Shepherd's Voice

Coronavirus deprivations offer moments of grace

By ARCHBISHOP GEORGE J. LUCAS

Recent directives from public health and government officials lead us to believe that our normal activities and interactions will be curtailed for a number of weeks. Sadly, it will not be possible for us to gather for Sunday Mass and the sacraments in our parishes in the usual way. This interruption in parish life comes during the holiest time of the year for Christians.

It seems unnatural that we should deliberately separate ourselves from other parishioners, and that tells us something important about ourselves. The mission of the church is “communion,” to bring together in the risen Jesus all that has been fragmented by sin.

The effect of sin has been separation – from God, among ourselves and even within our own minds and wills. The proclamation of the Gospel announces the new reality that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are not doomed to live and die in our sins. We are immersed in the power of this mystery (the Paschal Mystery) in the Eucharistic liturgy. In Holy Communion we have a foretaste of the reconciliation and communion that will be complete in heaven.

While this seems to be a moment of spiritual deprivation unlike anything we have yet experienced, it is also a powerful moment of grace. There is a basic profession of our faith that is heard often at Easter and is true always: Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus is Lord at this challenging time, just as surely as he is in prosperous and peaceful times. We are in his hands. He counts us as his disciples and friends. He has something that he wishes to give us these days; he has something to ask of us.

Our parishes will be working in different and creative ways in the coming weeks to assist you in responding to the invitation of the risen Lord to both receive and share spiritual benefits. Parish churches will remain open for private prayer and adoration. Arrangements will be made for individual confession and anointing of the sick. Resources will be provided to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, if necessary, with families at home. Small groups already meeting for Bible study, faith sharing and prayer are more important now than ever. Daily family prayer, including the rosary and Bible readings, are recommended for all.

Some priests and parishes already have a lively online presence, helpful for keeping in touch with parishioners. The Mass for Shut-ins can be viewed on Sunday mornings on WOWT-TV; daily Mass can be found on EWTN. Spirit Catholic Radio in Nebraska remains a great source of inspiration and information. Catholic podcasts are readily available on a variety of topics from Discerning Hearts (discerninghearts.com.). A number of parishes will be live-streaming the Mass and other devotions. And, of course, the Catholic Voice, in print and online, will continue to knit us together as an archdiocesan church in the days ahead.

Finally, as we prepare to commemorate the supreme act of charity of Christ on the cross, we are called to extend ourselves in charity these days. This begins at home, where families are spending more time together. We can pray about and discuss what we want to offer each other in terms of patience and support. We can invite Jesus to be a welcome guest among us. In neighborhoods and parishes, the Lord asks us to notice the person who is alone, in need of human contact and support. The devil works against the uniting mission of Jesus, to isolate and to prey on our fears. The Lord asks us to reach out in his name, to strengthen the bonds of communion, even to the stranger who is also our neighbor.

A time of reduced activity is an opportunity for prayer, both to ask the Lord for what we need and to listen to what he is saying. Count on my daily prayers for all of you. I know you join me in asking God’s blessing for those suffering from the virus, for health care workers, and for all in Nebraska and across the nation who serve in government, education and public health and safety. God bless you.