Singing Through the Rain.

“I am afraid to go back.” That is what I hear most often from everyone I speak to. From parishioners afraid to go back to in-person church and worship, to parents afraid to send their children back to school, to folks that are required to go back to work afraid to return to their positions and even more afraid to place their child in summer camp programs, to people afraid to travel or visit relatives, to medical professionals afraid to come home for fear they might infect their loved ones, to family of patients that I visit at the hospital, in my temporary return to chaplaincy to support the folks at Einstein, afraid to bring them back home for fear they will get infected again, to educator and teachers afraid to return to the classroom, to people like me, a pastor, afraid to open our doors wide for fear someone might get ill, even though we have literally spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours making plans to avoid just that! Yes, we are all ‘afraid’ in one way or another.

After struggling and struggling to keep our heads above the water in everything we’ve been through, this pandemic has felt like too much. In many ways, it was the proverbial ‘nail’ or ‘last straw’. We are tired and afraid and feel alone and isolated. And now, perhaps even worse, we have gone from being aggravated at staying home to almost becoming hermits: isolated, alone, insular and afraid. None of this is healthy. Not the infection, not the psychoses, and not the fear, and yet, here we are, “afraid to return to life.”

At the Vatican, Pope Francis stood alone, speaking before a huge, empty square during Hoy Week when most places are packed with worshippers. He simply said quietly,  “We find ourselves afraid, and lost.” He was. I am. You are. One pastor remarked, “I feel like I’m handing out life jackets of hope in a sea of despair.” I concur. It is not easy to return, and even the thoughts of doing so can embolden fear and make us all weak.

For me, in my own fear and isolation, there have been additional complications when it comes to pastoral care. In-person crisis counseling, comforting people as they die, providing sacraments, and consoling loved ones in the wake of death has been far more difficult. My life of summer weddings and the sad occasional funeral have all been but postponed; so are baptisms and First Holy Communion. My life – as a person and pastor – is far different. Add a new baby and new fears as a brand new dad, and you have a recipe for disaster! But I have maintained my composure and controlled my fear by focusing on things to come!

At Saint Miriam, we are retooling virtually everything we do to meet the needs of the current moment and our Sanctuary renovations are almost breathtaking! Everything is coming together to return to school and church life safely! The gatherings will be smaller, the health checks apparent, and the safety increased, but God will still come and we will still feel the Holy Spirit and our lives will return to normal; yes, perhaps a ‘new normal’ but a normal none-the-less, and we will have a choice: be still and know God is God and return to that new life with joy and faith, or be lost adrift alone on a sea of fear and isolation.

Our parish is alive and well. This pandemic has not changed us much at all, except perhaps, allowed us to realize what Saint Miriam really means to us and the deficit we have felt being apart from her physically. We have seen in living color the fact that while we are not at church it hasn’t kept us from being  the church.

I think that is a good way to end today. For a world in the grips of a pandemic, this was a time of tears. For a world now faced with a time of transition, it is a time of anxiety and fear. For Christians, like us, we are not immune; it is such a time for us as well, but it doesn’t end there. It can’t!

One of the highlights of my faith came, not from scripture, but from a television commercial. “Born in Quarantine” is narrated by a 100-year-old woman born in 1920 during the influenza pandemic. The message particularly speaks to new mom’s in quarantine, which my own wife and I endured with the birth of our first son, Jameson. But instead of it making people sad, it’s a vision of hope. You may find it here.

This is an enormous opportunity for Christians to show the world what we are for rather than all the many things they’ve heard us say that we’re against. I am for love, life, trust, faith, and hope.

How about you?

One Response to “Singing Through the Rain.”

  1. Kate Vandegrift says:

    Dear Monsignor,

    Thank you for openly sharing the longing that our community, and world, are enduring . I do believe this epidemic has compelled us to reflect and explore ourselves in ways we would not necessary have taken the time to do.

    I believe will be stronger, and more appreciative of all our blessings, when we start to assume more normal lives.

    We will move forward with the help of the Lord, your leadership, and the love of the St. Miriam’s community.

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