Commentary

Current crisis an opportunity to lean on the invisible

One year ago exactly I was writing about the flooding in Nebraska. In that column I pointed out the ways our fellow Nebraskans were rising up to serve in the midst of a devastating natural disaster. Here I want to point out that same spirit, but note there is a major difference.

First, as my family started to hunker down several weeks ago, I was shocked by the numbers of people in the stores and by the shelves depleted of some basic goods. But in the congested aisles, all I kept hearing was “excuse me” and “thank you.” There was a real sense of anxiety in the air, but we were all kind to each other, and that gave me great hope.

I work with Catholic school teachers around the archdiocese. Their dedication to keep working for the families they serve has been heartening. Of course, the dedication of medical professionals has been astounding as well. I know of one doctor who goes through a seemingly extreme series of steps to keep his family safe from the virus. His dedication humbles me. Their stories will be important to remember as we come out of this current crisis.

But while this difficult time, like the flooding from a year ago, has given me many examples of heroism, there is a major difference. While our parishes all care for the poor year-round, last year teams of volunteers would meet at local churches to go out and distribute aid. This time our churches cannot be the hubs of physical activity out of which God’s mercy pours. But this doesn’t mean that our churches are inactive.

What I mean is that every Sunday we say that we believe in things “visible and invisible.” We keep calling for this thing called “grace” which the church’s theology assures us is offered in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, but is intangible. And many of my friends are rightly distraught that they cannot come to church and receive Communion alongside their fellow Catholics.

But while the church is not in this crisis a hub of physical relief, the church is and has been and will continue to be even now a hub of spiritual relief. Those graces we long for are still being offered to us as our parish priests celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every day.

We are still “with” each other by virtue of our baptisms. The graces through that sacrament and the sacraments of confirmation, marriage and holy orders still flow in and through and around us, because God and his bride the church are not limited by this crisis or any crisis. He communicates those graces to us wherever we are, and he is in our midst whenever we gather physically or virtually.

After this crisis passes, and it will, no doubt our parishes will need to step up again to care for the poor. And none of this is to say that reception of the Eucharist is wholly unnecessary. I ask only that as we lean perhaps a bit more on the invisible, we should not despair. Thank the Lord for this opportunity to lean on his grace above all things.

And in the meantime, we can imagine how our souls shall swell with joy when the invisible unity of our church is finally made visible again while we serve the poor and worship together with one voice during the Mass. It will be like heaven meeting earth.

Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at ofgutierrez@archomaha.org.