Sunday, 26 July 2020 08:51

Sharing more information on fighting racism, attending Mass and COVID-19

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Here are some follow-ups from the previous column:

Someone in our diocese has contacted me regarding the anti-racism team of the Illinois Conference of Churches. I hope that, in a later column, I can report on our activity.

No sooner did I write, joking about anti-racism activists and our need for superhero suits, than I discovered that DC Comics has published a young-adult graphic novel called Superman Smashes the Klan! We cannot forget that the story of the Man of Steel himself contains the theme of his being “alien” and “other.”

And now, another pandemic miscellany:

My sister in Minneapolis suggested that our family gather at my parents’ window in Decatur on Father’s Day. The assisted-living facility allowed this, stipulating that their window was not to be opened. So, I and all my siblings, spouses, and two grandsons surprised them. Since the window could not be opened, we still had to talk to them on the phone. Only a few days later, the facility announced outdoor visits, and I took advantage of this opportunity earlier this month. I was able to visit with my parents under a tent for about 25 minutes and we concluded with “air hugs.” It was a hot day, but there was a very effective breeze.

At the parishes, we are celebrating public Masses, one at each parish on Saturday evening, and a live-streamed Eucharist on Sunday morning. We are no longer requiring RSVPs for coming to Mass. They are still small congregations, entirely manageable, and everyone is taking necessary precautions. We continue to distribute holy Communion on Sunday mornings in the parking lots of each church building. Confessions are in rooms opening directly onto an outside entrance, and the minister of reconciliation and the penitent are properly spaced. We have held meetings by teleconference, but also in person — with masks worn by all. Vacation Bible School will be conducted with take-home kits.

From time to time we still hear the protests of people who want to claim that restrictions on gatherings in churches and other places of worship are a curtailment of religious freedom. No, they aren’t! I read a report from the Pacific Northwest about churches which have decided to open to activity as usual, virus or no virus. A pastor was quoted as saying, “If I get COVID, I get COVID.”

My fellow pastor, could we please back up a little bit? Your fatalistic speculation is essentially incomplete. Your Christian faith instructs you that you cannot simply think about whether you get COVID, because all of our decisions must be weighed in accord with the great Commandments, love of God and love of neighbor as yourself.

The precautions of physical distance and mask-wearing are universal expressions of “love of neighbor as self” if any such universal expression has ever existed. We can gain a great deal from reflecting on this simple fact.

I also read a Catholic priest who was speculating that, because of the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, people will not return to church. If people do not perceive Sunday Mass as obligation and as a gift they are giving to themselves (love your neighbor as yourself), Sunday Mass has not made much sense to them. As the live streams continue, the yearning grows for a physical return to the celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ!