| By Father Dwight Ezop

Jesus has been with us this year, every step of the way

In just a little over a month, the world will mark, to the best of our understanding, the first anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic. In our nation alone, we have been through so much in the last 12 months – hundreds of thousands of deaths and many more made ill by the virus. So many people have lost jobs, homes, time in school and human dignity. We have endured changes to personal routines, learned how to wear masks and practice physical distancing, washed our hands so many times that our mothers would be beyond proud, successfully learned how to master video conferencing in order to celebrate family milestones and holidays, and so much more. More than once in the past year, parishioners have approached me and asked very candidly, “Father Dwight, where is Jesus in all of this?”

During our first Mass on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my parish community celebrated the rite of welcome for those who will be our catechumens and candidates in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (the RCIA). In the midst of the assembly and joined by their sponsors, they declared their desire to enter in an even more earnest manner the process that will lead them to full membership in the Church this Easter. As we celebrated the rite, it dawned on me that here was Jesus, doing what Jesus does – calling us to new life. Their journeys are unique, but each of them has heard and responded to God’s call.

Later that same morning, families in our faith formation program worked together to make Thanksgiving cards for shut-ins. They also were cutting out and assembling the ornaments that will be put on the parish Giving Tree for Advent. Even in the midst of the pandemic, we will do what we can to help make Christmas just a little brighter for area families in need – and there was Jesus, asking us to care for the poor.

Two days earlier, I was called to visit three patients who were spending their last earthly hours in two different area hospice residences. As I visited and prayed with them and their families, I saw staff who have cared for them for hours, days or weeks. They and those family members were doing everything they could to ease the anxiety, pain and uncertainty that everyone was feeling. And there was Jesus, the Divine Physician, bringing peace and comfort to the sick and the dying, holding up those whose spirits were sagging, and giving peace and gentle wisdom to people whose daily work and ministry is about the other side of the birthing process – being born into eternal life.

That same day I caught sight of the good work done by a group of teens to assemble emergency assistance bags for the homeless and the needy. The bags, which contain items such as toiletries, warm socks, a blanket, a fast food gift card and more, will soon be distributed to people whose lives grow so much more difficult in the cold of winter. There, too, is Jesus, in, as St. Teresa of Calcutta says, “His most distressing disguise.”

As I write this, clients are pulling up to our parish St. Vincent de Paul facility. There they are warmly greeted and provided with the food they will need for themselves and their family. Jesus is there, too, in the generosity of those who provided the food, in the diligence of those who bundled it up and in the humility of those who gratefully accept it.

It has been quite a year, and Jesus has been with us each step along the way. He will be with us in the year ahead, in countless ways that we cannot fully anticipate. He is here in Word and Sacrament. He is here. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.