Missing the community of faith and love our parishes provide
I am writing this column on Thursday, May 21. This puts us just a little over two months into the period of time that public liturgies in our diocese have been suspended. As of this week, parishes in our diocese have been given the option to gradually reopen the public celebration of weekday Masses with a very small congregation in attendance. Things feel very different in church right now.
Today was also the last day of formal instruction for the students in our parish school. As I noted in my homily for our weekly school Mass – livestreamed to the homes of our students and anyone else who wished to take part – when we started the current school year last August, we could not possibly have anticipated how the last two months of the school year would operate. Distance learning has been the means for providing daily academic and spiritual formation for our students. Faculty, staff, students and parents have been great through these last two months. They accepted the changes that needed to be made as we followed our governor’s stay home order, designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. I also noted in my homily that we normally would end with annual awards, the school field day and talent show, and so much more. We are finding different ways for some of that to happen, but things feel very different as we bring this school year to its conclusion.
Things look, sound and feel very different around the parish right now. I miss being able to gather with a worshiping assembly in church for Mass. I miss having the opportunity to interact with the students, faculty and staff of the school. I miss so many aspects of parish life that happen outside of Mass. I’m not sure that I miss the evening meetings, but that’s a different story.
I know many people of the parish have been missing both the spiritual and the social aspects of being able to be together as a parish community. I try to read the comments that are made by folks after our daily livestreamed Mass. They miss being in church, they miss receiving the Eucharist and they miss being with one another.
Much to my surprise, and shortly after the stay home order was issued, I heard a lot of laughter coming from the parish parking lot. It was a beautiful, brisk spring day and a small group of folks had gathered in the parish parking lot. They had brought their lawn chairs and spaced them out to practice the physical distancing we are called to practice. Seated in a big circle in the parking lot, they each had their own snack and a tasty beverage. Gathered there, they were having a wonderful time just chatting, laughing, sharing stories, catching up on the news of the community and being parish community with and for one another. I think I spent over an hour out there with them that first gathering. They have returned several times since, especially as the weather has warmed up, and each time they are respectful of the guidelines we have to live with as they seek to be the body of Christ together – acting in genuine care and concern for one another.
I don’t know that any of us could have anticipated in the spring of 2019 how we would be living in the spring of 2020. Things are different. We know that so many people have been directly or indirectly affected by the coronavirus. At this moment, we are anticipating reopening some aspects of our daily lives. We are making plans for the resumption of Sunday Masses with a limited congregation present in church. I hope, as we move forward, we remember just how much we need the Eucharist, the life of communal prayer that we find in church, and the community of faith and love that our parishes make possible in so many unique ways. I hope we put those lessons into action and never let go of them. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.