Dear Parishioners and Friends,
In the Resurrection narratives we become privy to a number of surprise encounters with the Lord. That Magdalene first believes she is talking to a gardener. Those in the Upper Room believe they have securely locked themselves away. Thomas seems to be content in his doubtfulness. Elsewhere in these narratives some of the disciples remove themselves as they return to fishing. And let us not forget the disciples who were heading back to Emmaus convinced there is no reason to remain in Jerusalem.
Each of these encounters describe very relatable emotions and dispositions of the spirit. Sadness and grief, anxiety and fear, disbelief and confusion, hopelessness and despair. Very human feelings as these women and men encountered the death of their Lord, their Master, and their beloved friend.
What changed for each and all of them? Their awareness of a personal encounter with the Risen Lord! Sadness and grief give way to joy, disbelief and confusion shrink as faith and clarity provide new powers, hopelessness and despair melt away as hearts burn while in the Word’s presence and memories awaken in the breaking of the bread.
How relevant are these initial encounters with the risen Lord as we experience this 2020 Easter Season. Sadness and grief for those who have lost or are losing loved ones without even having the chance to hold their hands, anxiety and fear as numbers of new victims are projected at the president’s or a governor’s daily news briefing, disbelief and confusion as we try to understand and control this uninvited guest into our lives, hopelessness and despair as we embrace this new norm while many suffer from varied sorts of isolation and others questioning God’s presence in all of this as we are forced to fast from the Holy Eucharist.
To be sure, these are not easy days. Family time can become strained as cabin fever kicks in, worship can seem so impersonal, daily statistics of victims are depressing, restrictions on our freedoms are getting old, patience is wearing thin, the dog is too skinny with so many daily walks, the masks are too tight, hands are cracking because of over washing.
Of course, we all lament the fact that Sunday church bells ring at their usual times while the doors remain locked. Funerals consist of an efficient burial without the Mass. The dying are anointed although often ministered alone with the priest. Our catechumens and candidates are eagerly awaiting. Brides and grooms are scurrying about to postpone their life’s big event. Our young friends wonder when they will receive their First Holy Communion or Confirmation. And many more people now suffer in isolation compounded by stay-at-home directives. Far from ideal.
And yet we continue to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of this very same Christ who came that we may have life and have it more abundantly.
Here in Ohio City, in two relatively small Catholic parish communities, these past several weeks have allowed us to witness many parishioners and friends – within and beyond our parish families – who embrace and express life despite the sadness, grief, anxiety, fear, disbelief, and confusion. Time after time, occasion upon occasion, so many repeatedly step up to ensure that the encounter with the risen Lord continues to be evident, tangible, so very real!
As a pastor and as an administrator I have the double blessing of witnessing grace’s powerful and explosive victory over what otherwise could be reasons to not embrace authentic joy, faith, hope, and abounding charity. Allow me to share just a handful of examples:
- Our dedicated volunteers who serve. Although many of our outreach ministries are temporarily suspended, we have been able to continue some service to the hungry and homeless in our neighborhoods. Our Saint Patrick food pantry remains open, in large part due to our Saint Vincent de Paul Society and members of our Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Our Saint Malachi Back Door Ministry is slowly rebooting its efforts as it resumes limited days of operation (Wednesdays and Fridays), thanks to the wonderful efforts of Racquel and Willy. And others continue to make sandwiches and prepare food for other services in the neighborhood.
- Our parish grounds have served as little oases during Lent and Holy Week, welcoming dozens of parishioners each day as they traversed the Way of the Cross, prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, did a rosary walk, enjoyed a laugh, went to confession, picked up their palms on Bridge or Vermont, shared a story, shed a tear, extended a virtual hug, or offered an insight. We thank our many volunteers who helped bring church environment outside so we could safely gather for these experiences of encounter and expressions of faith.
- Our websites have never been so frequently visited as they are now. Many staff members have joked about making quantum leaps in knowledge and use of technology. We are indebted to our parishioners and friends at both parishes for the recording, the formatting, the revisions, and the linking up so that we can keep in touch with our people.
- Our spiritual messages and greetings were possible in thanks to our musicians at both parishes who were willing to come and share their gift so that we would enjoy familiar voices and instrumentalists filling our churches with comforting messages through pipes, strings, and sweet sounding voices! Our video messages highlight the hard work of our art and environment crews. Our parishioners who creatively found many ways to continue living Faith in daily life. We’ve enjoyed pictures of family altars and make-shift classrooms, including spaces for PSR. We’ve been touched by photos of Daddy and daughter washing each other’s feet on Holy Thursday and the procession of the Good Friday Cross around the family room. Even the Saint Patrick rectory got happily “egged” on Easter morning by one of our families who creatively found ways to connect with others. Some of our musicians, enrichment groups, and others continue to gather at specified time for prayer, reflection, and fellowship. And countless other great examples!
We’ve come too far through this pandemic to lock our hearts in rooms filled with fear, or to give into paralyzing doubts, or to turn back at this point. With God’s divine mercy, we have a story to tell, good news to proclaim, and souls to feed.
So whatever this Easter Season continues to look like – even if it takes a silly looking priest on an Easter rocket car – let’s keep at it. The message is simple: He is risen, alleluia! Go forth and proclaim this Good News!