Pentecost after COVID-19
Taking the challenge to leave our rooms of fear and enter the world again with only love
I write this reflection on the solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of Mary. The world is in the midst of COVID-19, as I’m writing this. In most dioceses across our country, our churches are shut down until at least the end of April. We do not know what will happen. Life drastically changes daily. We have not yet celebrated Triduum and Easter. In fact, we do not yet know if those celebrations will even happen this year. Lent this year was ultimate and radical.
I can only imagine today what Pentecost will be like at the end of May, the month in which this article appears in The Priest. It is difficult to look ahead to the wake of this disease. We have yet to learn the lessons from these days. I do know that the aftermath of the novel coronavirus will form our society and world for years to come. We may never be the same. We may learn valuable lessons from our fragility. We may let go of our illusions, even the ones we want to believe are true. We may learn to pray again from genuine need and raw hope.
We wring our hands in fear facing the unknown. We worry about those who are sick and their caretakers and healthcare workers. We fret about communicating with parishioners and about not being able to celebrate funerals for the dead in many cases. We stress about postponed weddings and the ability to fundraise and those who face food insecurity. We worry about how our parishes will survive such economic loss and where to go from here. We fear the unknown. We clench our teeth as we try to sing of hope.
I pray that we may keep our sights on Pentecost this year. My brothers, this is the place where we all need to learn and to practice priesthood. The disciples, along with Mary, were practicing “social distancing.” They were locked together in fear in a small room. They were afraid that they, too, would be killed in light of Jesus’ death. They huddled in embrace, clenched their teeth and smelled the sweat of panic.
Our world is much like that room now. We are locked down in many cities and schools are shut and locked. Restaurants are serving only takeout. Grocery stores are empty as toilet paper and canned goods are hoarded. We are in the midst of the unknown. We are stifled with fear and panic swells the eyes of our elderly. We do not know where to turn.
In many of our parishes, technology is one of our lifelines. We provide video homilies and information on Flocknote or parish emails. Skype, Twitter and Facebook are ways to bridge lives, prayers and our people. Technology may very well be the Holy Spirit’s way to increase hope in these days of isolation, loneliness and fear. Anxiety rules our day. Assurance that we are not alone is the key to pastoral life today. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak and to console even online.
The wake of the coronavirus will be the most important aspect of our pastoral lives, perhaps in our lifetimes. The aftermath of illness and death will form our understandings of community and sacraments. We are not yet there. However, in the center of anxiety is the place where we rest today. Anxiety calls us into deep prayer. Fear captures our emotions, races our hearts and makes us sweat. Dread calls us to step away in order to reflect with our families about what is most important. We may actually learn to listen to one another and to speak truth.
Our pastoral leadership must tread lightly in our fear. People need to know we are concerned and worried about them, not merely the future of our buildings. From bishops’ offices across the country, people need to hear a consoling and fruitful word. We need to proclaim hope where there is only fear. Getting the word out, no matter the technology available, is key to our future within the Church today. People need to hear from pastors that faith, hope and love are real. They need to hear our voices even if only on their computers.
My brothers, allow Pentecost to change our hearts most especially this year. In the wake of disease and loss, we may even break down walls and barriers that keep us apart. We may even change our harsh opinions of one another’s ministries. We need to break down the perspectives of ageism among us, our varying theologies or the good-old-boy systems that reek with power and clericalism. The Church desperately needs us to minister to one another — and together.
When we take Pentecost seriously, we are free to live in God. When we truly live in God, we live with a new sense of abundance, not scarcity. We are being called to minister with lives of abundance more than ever. We will never be able to continue the hard work of consolidating parishes, reordering budgets or listening to the hardships of our people without a deeper realization that God is offering us more than we need. We are being called to let go of negative politics in our dioceses and of feeling powerless among those in authority. Pentecost challenges us to ask for such change, a reordering of the heart that is never easy.
The Holy Spirit desires the best for us, to become men of sincere hope. The Holy Spirit provides the freedom to live with courage. Pentecost once again reminds us to ask for everything we need to serve, love and minister among one another and the people who need God. In the wake that is sure to come of the coronavirus, Pentecost will be our blueprint of hope for us and for our people as we leave our rooms of fear and enter the world again with only love. Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Colorado Springs, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Manitou Springs and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, Colorado.