I Felt Abandoned During the Pandemic
DEAR FATHER JOE: Unlike in most parishes, my priest did not appear to minister during the COVID pandemic. I feel abandoned, so why should I go back to my parish?
I understand the sense of betrayal and sorrow, I do. I ministered to many people during the height of the quarantine who expressed the same feelings. I know what it is to feel abandoned or betrayed and I pray to God to heal that wound.
What I would like to do now is offer you a perspective that may help you move through this. We’ll look at priests, bishops and laity and how I saw each respond during the crisis.
We’ll start with priests: Why did some priests not minister during the COVID crisis?
For some priests, they simply couldn’t do it: physical limitations among priests are the same as those among lay people. Some of us have bad lungs, some bad hearts — for many health reasons, some of us simply couldn’t minister without getting seriously sick or infecting other people. Other priests have limitations of imagination; God did not give them the gift of reimagining a way to minister beyond what they are used to. Because of that, they weren’t able to step out of the norm and find a different way to do things.
I hope we all realize that none of these things are sins or failings. They are a reality of broken people like myself being called by a God who requires dependence, not dependability.
If there were some priests who decided that this was basically a break time, let me say on the Church’s behalf that I am so sorry.
But there were priests to whom God gave good lungs and hearts. There were priests to whom God gave an abundance of imagination, and I urge you to remember that those priests were able to continue ministering in life-giving and beautiful ways. There were priests who tried their best to be present in whatever way God called them to.
Now, let’s look at bishops:
Our bishops have an awesome and monumental responsibility. They are entrusted by God to do their best to care for their flock and, honestly, I don’t think we often consider what a grave responsibility that is. Some people have implied or outright said that our bishops’ decisions to temporarily suspend public Masses was caving in to secular pressure rather than caring for the good of God’s people. This is an incredibly harsh judgment. Jesus flat-out told us that the measure with which we measure others will be measured back to us. I look at my bishop and believe with all my heart that he did (and does) his absolute best to do the right thing. I am proud of him.
Finally, let’s look at the laity.
I worry sometimes that because of the way we priests sometimes minister in parishes, we leave God’s people with the impression that it is our job to take care of things and it is the role of the laity to support that. This is trouble.
The fact is, for every priest that didn’t minister there were innumerable lay people who could have. It doesn’t require a priest or even a parish employee to call a lonely parishioner. It doesn’t require a priest or parish employee to deliver groceries or to pray with people over the phone. As long as we act as if only priests can do these things, our Church will suffer.
Beyond that, some of us at times made the problem worse: we reposted our conspiracy theories on social media, we attacked other people who didn’t agree with us — many of us Catholics were absolutely indistinguishable from those who don’t know or love God. Our fear and anger were our defining traits — when instead we are called to show the world what it is to be loved by God and how that changes us.
There is room for all of us in the Church to repent for our attitudes and actions during the crisis, and also to celebrate our attitudes and actions during the crisis.
But, even then, if I may, I’d like to suggest that none of these are reasons to stay in or leave the Church. There is only one reason to stay in the Church — because what we believe is true.
Priests come and go, bishops come and go, lay people come and go. Here’s what doesn’t come and go: The truth of Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church. If these things are true (and I obviously believe they are), then we should never let our failings or the failings of others deter us from it.
My sure medicine for the moments when the failures of the Church threaten to overwhelm me is to ask myself a simple question: Do I believe what the Church believes?
With this, I invite you to take a moment and read over the Apostles’ Creed. Take some time and read it, pray through it and then ask yourself if it is true. If so, then forgive those who failed you, forgive yourself for any failures and press forward with a heart filled with joy, knowing that Our Lord will never allow our sin to be a reason to abandon us.