by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I addressed a Zoom meeting of more than 150 delegates to last October’s convocation.
The purpose of the virtual gathering was to reflect upon how we are called to live missionary discipleship within the new normal of social distancing. The virtual meeting provided the opportunity for more in- depth conversation and reflections in smaller groups.
In my group, I was inspired by the ways individuals were discovering and inventing ways in which to live their call to missionary discipleship.
The convocation promoted a model of discipleship that is summarized by prayer, care and share. It begins by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you to pray for particular individuals by name.
After having prayed for these family members, parishioners, co-workers, friends, acquaintances, etc., for a period of time, the next step is to attempt to get to know them better by engaging in conversations of consequence and asking them for specific prayer intentions.
Finally, having strengthened the relationships, the final step is recognizing and taking advantage of natural opportunities to share the positive difference faith makes in life.
One person in my small group shared how the convocation delegates from his parish had divided up the names of registered parishioners and devoted each bead of their daily rosary to pray by name for a particular parishioner.
A mother of small children shared how she was experimenting with ways to better engage her children in praying the family rosary. Among her strategies was to allow each child after he or she led the praying of the Hail Mary to consume an M&M. I thought this was a brilliant method to introduce children to the sweetness of praying the rosary.
This woman’s effort to strengthen the prayer life of her family reminded me of a cartoon I received recently featuring the devil and God engaging in a conversation over the effects of the pandemic. The devil boasts: “With COVID-19 I closed your churches!”
God counters: “On the contrary, I just opened one in every home!”
At one point, our small group discussion turned to the desire that each was experiencing to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.
These men and women already had a sincere devotion for the Eucharist. However, the fast imposed by the pandemic from reception of holy Communion made them more aware of their craving to encounter the Lord through the sacrament.
To a person, they foresaw the shedding of tears of joy when they finally can receive the Eucharist again. They were convinced in the future they will not take for granted the privilege of receiving Our Lord in holy Communion.
It is my earnest desire, as soon as prudently possible, to provide opportunities for the people of the archdiocese to participate in Mass again and to receive the Eucharist.
At the same time, it is imperative that we achieve this goal without jeopardizing the health of parishioners, and continue to do our part to promote the common good by protecting the health of our communities.
This past week, I met virtually with five Catholic doctors, three of whom are infectious disease specialists, to discuss when and how it will be prudent and safe to reopen our churches and allow for the reception of holy Communion.
Based on the best medical advice available, the initial steps to reinstitute the public celebration of Mass will require limitations on the number of people, social distancing and the wearing of masks.
I am pleased to report that 24 of our priests have volunteered to serve as Covid-19 chaplains. This is an exceptionally high number, since we excluded priests considered high- risk because of age or underlying health conditions. Most of these priests have already gone through training on the proper use of protective gear.
For hospitals that do not already have a priest chaplain, I hope to designate one priest to serve as a Covid-19 chaplain for each medical center. I also want to designate priests to be Covid-19 chaplains for particular regions in the archdiocese. These priests will be trained in hearing confessions and administering the anointing of the sick safely to COVID-19 patients.
The archdiocese is attempting to acquire a sufficient supply of protective gear for our COVID-19 chaplains. If any of our Leaven readers can help provide medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE), please contact us at: email@example.com.
We want to do everything possible to protect these generous priests. The preparation and equipping of these COVID-19 chaplains is part of the church’s effort to make it possible for those approaching death to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, the anointing of the sick and viaticum.
When this is not possible despite our best efforts, we trust that a merciful and loving God provides the necessary grace. A decree issued by the church on March 19 addresses this specific point: “The church prays for those who find themselves unable to receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and viaticum [holy Communion], entrusting each and every one to divine mercy by virtue of the communion of saints and granting the faithful a Plenary Indulgence at the point of death, provided that they are duly disposed and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime.”
For those unable to receive absolution of sins through the sacrament of reconciliation (penance) during this time of pandemic, the church assures that perfect contrition, motivated from an authentic love of God, accompanied by a sincere request for forgiveness and a firm resolution to have recourse as soon as possible to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1452).
Finally, we can all be very proud of the work of Catholic Charities in serving those who are experiencing economic hardship at this time. Catholic Charities is providing food and other forms of emergency assistance to the many unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are able, I encourage you to be generous in your support of Catholic Charities.
We know that Jesus is faithful to his promise to be with his disciples until the end of time.
We also view everything through the prism of the paschal mystery (the dying and rising of Jesus). We are confident that God will bring forth love from suffering, hope from adversity and life from death. We are one day closer to the end of this pandemic.
Be not afraid! Jesus is with us! Christ is risen! Alleluia!