Our First Priority
A priest wrote me recently: “I was in church with parishioners until 8:00 tonight, the official closing of all public Masses, devotions and gatherings in the diocese through at least April 1. Many people are distraught at the loss of the sacraments. It’s an eerie thing for a priest and pastor not to be a part of these graces in the lives of his people. One of our parishioners is in hospice and I’m prevented from visiting. Happily, at least I brought him the last sacraments a few days ago, but still. . . .”
He goes on: “It’s funny. We’re completely shut down and I’m more swamped with calls, emails, and individual meetings, than ever. Let alone implementing ‘creative’ ways to stay in touch, support, pray with, and encourage parishioners. Both last night and in these last two days, I’ve noticed two general attitudes. The first is a beautiful, genuine (and sad) upset at not having access to the sacraments. The second is a disturbing fear and anxiety over the virus and the unknown future. The former is good, the latter may be understandable, but it’s hard to deal with. And this only a few days in!”
Amid the wall-to-wall coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic and, in Catholic circles, discussions about what the Church’s response should be, this frustration among priests – the good priests – has gone all but unnoticed. Note: the frustration here is a wish to be with the people, but uncertainty how, precisely, to do that without doing harm.
Several priests have written me to say they want to get out there, boldly (at least ten priests have died from the virus in Italy). And in some places – my own parish, for example – priests are trying “creative” ways to hear Confessions that (we hope) won’t put parishioners or themselves at risk.