Last week in the first week of the COVID-19 lockdown I was able to write my Lockdown Diary every day, but planned for it to be twice a week or weekly. Already another week has flown by and I seem to be busier in lockdown than when not in lockdown. Much of this is trying to re-arrange ministry within the parish while I and my staff work from home.
Our Director of Faith Formation has been doing a great job along with our parochial vicar to get worship aids and catechetical resources out to our people. Communications director and secretary have been refining our communications–trying to make sure the website and Facebook pages are up to date and mailing information out to those who do not use computers. We’ve had to roll with very stringent regulations concerning sacramental ministry and we priests are finding it as hard as the people to have to restrict access to the sacraments completely.
On the personal front, our two oldest children are home with us now, and Theo–our third child dropped in from Charleston yesterday on his way to do some rock climbing in North Carolina with a few friends. We’ve discussed how to plan our lockdown through the end of April. Ben is developing his skills designing websites with some mentoring from a friend. Maddy is hoping to develop more skills in her area of expertise: marketing. I’ve always got writing project going so I’ll stay out of trouble and my wife Alison still has some low level work in her business of helping senior downsize. We’re staying at home except for necessary trips and hoping and praying with everyone else that the danger may not be as severe as feared and may pass sooner than expected.
In the middle of this stressful time it has been discouraging to read on social media the accusations by a few traditionalist Catholics basically saying we priests– who are obeying our bishops by not celebrating Mass publicly or hearing confessions–are cowards. They like to point out that priests during plagues in the past went and ministered to their flocks no matter what the cost.
What these armchair theologians don’t understand is that most priests would gladly go and minister to their people no matter what the cost to themselves. However, we are not allowed into hospitals to anoint and administer communion. The hospital chaplains are even finding themselves under restrictions. Yes, we can be creative and find ways to celebrate Mass and hear confessions while maintaining proper distance, but we do not have the bishop’s permission to do so, and here’s why: we priests are properly obedient to the bishop, but not only to the bishop. We are also obedient to one another inasmuch as we work together as a college of priests. We don’t break ranks.
Yes, yes. I know how this can lead to abuses, but in this situation it is important to not break ranks because if one priest begins to hear confessions or celebrate Mass publicly he will not only be swamped, but people will then pressure their priest…”Fr Myway is saying Mass, why don’t you?”
So if you are inclined to be critical of us priests at this time, please try to be patient. We are as unhappy about the situation as you, but we understand what needs to be done and ask you to work with us. Remember, there have been many places and times down through history in which the faithful have been deprived of the sacraments for a whole range of reasons–political revolution, persecution, plague, shortage of priests etc. God is with us. Do not fear. His promise that “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in the midst of them” is still true.
Furthermore, it is not that Mass is not being celebrated. Most priests are saying daily Mass, and doing so with reverence, compassion and love for God and for their people. Jesus is present and with us. Have faith. Be strong. Encourage one another. Those few who are critical and mean spirited are the minority.
These Lockdown diaries have been focussed on what we can learn from monastic spirituality as the. monks were the first to go into lockdown. Today I want to remind you of the three vows that Benedictine monks and nuns take. They vow obedience, stability and conversion of life. I wrote last time about obedience.
Today consider the vow of stability. A monk vows stability by making his commitment to one particular monastery. He is a monk of Downside or a monk of Clear Creek or a monk of Belmont. He commits to that community and that abbot and to that particular place. He doesn’t move about. This is lockdown for life. The enclosed monk or nun really does not go out except for vital business like a doctor’s office or hospital visit. They remain in their enclosed life in order to find God and learn to live in community with one another. During our own time of lockdown we can sample what true stability means.
When we commit to one place and one community life becomes much smaller. We being to focus more on one another and on the little things of life. Being enclosed with other people–even those we love most–demands more attention to the little things that grate and cause impatience and breakouts of selfishness. It requires more attention to one another and the needs of others. Paying attention to the small things also means the little things of life that give pleasure are more acute. They mean more to us and we are more aware of all the little things which, in a busy life, we ignore or take for granted. We have time to watch the plants grow, hear the birds sing and appreciate the smell of cooking, the laughter of a child and all the little things that once passed us by.
The vow of stability means “God is not elsewhere” and “if you cannot find God here you will not be able to find him anywhere.” If and when trouble comes, those who have learned to appreciate and cultivate stability will find that the ability to find God just where they are becomes a great resource because they realize he is also with them in the hospital, at the death bed, in the concentration camp, in the horror and the harrowing parts of life.
So during the lockdown let’s learn from the monks not only obedience, but stability. Let us build our house on the rock, not on the shifting sands.