“I wonder as I wander out under the sky…”
We’re all familiar with that Christmas carol that has its origins in the hills of Appalachia. During these days of the lockdown, I find myself doing a fair amount of wandering during my daily walks around the neighborhood. And as I wander, I wonder. Mostly about you.
I wonder how you’re dealing with the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in. I wonder about you senior parishioners (I know—I’m in your number!); I wonder especially about those of you who live alone and have no family nearby. I’ve been able to connect with many of you by phone, but in other cases it’s been frustrating to find that the phone number we have on file is no longer good. And so I do wonder about you and I pray that you are doing okay, staying safe, and getting what you need.
I wonder about all of you who are working from home. For some of you that probably works pretty well; for others, especially those of you with kids, it may not work all that well at all. Kids climbing the walls and acting out as kids do can hardly make for a productive work environment! Even so I hope that the time you’re spending together as a family is a blessing and something you’ll remember with gratitude when life goes back to normal.
And I wonder about you whose work is essential and who are still heading in to work each day. Some of you are nurses, doctors, medical techs or hospital support staff; some of you are in law enforcement or first responders of one sort or another; some of you are checkers at the supermarket or you staff our pharmacies or drive buses - and I know that list doesn’t begin to exhaust the possibilities. Many of you are putting yourselves in harm’s way each day and I want to acknowledge the selflessness and the heroism involved in that. Each morning at Mass, I find myself praying for you in a special way, asking God to keep you healthy and safe and to give you the physical and emotional strength you need in order to deal with the situations in which you find yourselves.
I wonder – and I worry – about all of you who are out of work either because you’ve been laid off or furloughed. I can only begin to imagine how scary this is for you. And then there are those of you who own small businesses – or big businesses. I wonder how you’re dealing with this awful moment. In many cases, your employees were like family and when you have had no choice but to lay them off, it must have been heart-wrenching for you.
I wonder, too, how those of you who have lost loved ones during these days are handling your loss. Death at any time is exceedingly painful to deal with, but when – in some cases – you have not able to be there when your loved one was dying, and then, when you were unable to receive the grace-filled consolation of the Church by celebrating the funeral, the pain must be unbearable. My heart goes out to you.
And then I wonder about all of you young people of the parish. Do you miss going to school (hard to imagine, but possible!). How are your online classes going? How are you doing not being able to have real time – as opposed to Face time -- with your friends? And how about you graduates who have been looking forward to all the rituals of graduation – proms, Baccalaureates, the graduation itself? This has to be really hard to deal with, so I not only wonder about you, I pray for you.
And I can’t help but wonder about all of you who were preparing for special sacramental moments: I think of you engaged couples who have long been planning to celebrate your wedding during these beautiful spring days. To have your dreams and plans suddenly evaporate has to be heartbreaking, to say the least. I think of you parents who have been looking forward to the baptism of your child; or to celebrating your child’s First Holy Communion. I think of our wonderful young people who have been preparing for confirmation. This much I can tell you: when we do get to celebrate these great moments, it will be a very happy day!
As a kind of parenthesis, I find myself wondering about people who seem to be in denial regarding the crisis we find ourselves in – those who seem reluctant to practice social distancing and who refuse to wear masks when in public. I wonder why they would choose to put themselves and others at risk. And I also wonder about people who think Church leaders made a great mistake in not allowing us to gather in our churches to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments. They are convinced that fulfilling a Church law has greater moral weight than observing the Law of Love which, at this time, is best lived out by taking every possible step to ensure the safety of others. I do wonder about their line of thinking and I pray for them, too.
And then I suppose it’s possible you wonder a bit about me and what I’m up to these days. Well, as I indicated at the start, I’m doing a fair amount of wandering each day. Happily, the uncommonly beautiful Spring weather has made my daily walks not only worthwhile, but very enjoyable. And as I wander, I have a lot of time not only to take in the beauties of creation but to reflect and to pray. A good deal of my prayer centers on you as I ask God to use these strange days to strengthen your faith, deepen your love for your family, prompt you to reach out to the lonely, and to give you the patience you need to deal with squirrely kids and touchy fellow family members.
In addition to my wandering, I start each morning with prayer – including the celebration of Mass which, though ‘private,’ is anything but private since it’s the prayer of the whole Church and embraces the entire human family. Each morning at Mass, I pray for the people I talked with on the phone the day before and I bring to mind the needs of all of you in the parish as well as the needs of our world which, as you know, are endless.
And then there are the emails and text messages! To be honest, I receive a lot of them and, compulsive as I am, I feel obliged to respond to them. And that takes time. Maybe too much time! Added to doing those, there are the Zoom meetings with staff members and other groups and committees. To tell the truth, I had never even heard of Zoom before the coronavirus crisis, but now it has become a household word and a near necessity. Believe it or not, I attended a Zoom funeral the other day for our good friend, Father Peter Ely, SJ, who died suddenly and unexpectedly on Holy Saturday. Father Ely was part of our Cathedral family thanks to the turn he took over many years in preaching at Sunday Masses (and preaching very well!). Because of the lockdown, the only funeral that could be celebrated for him at this time was a virtual one and, although it was far from ideal, it did bring healing and comfort to his family, his brother Jesuits, and his many friends at a difficult time.
Part of each day I devote to working on homilies and writing things like this. One day recently I did a video for a virtual prayer service for the O’Dea High School students; another day I did a video for the local ecumenical/inter-religious observance of the 50
anniversary of Earth Day. As this thing drags on, I find myself getting less and less spooked when I look into a camera and I guess that’s a good thing.
And I’m spending a good deal more time than ever before in my kitchen (which I have sometimes jokingly described as ‘virginal!’). Some of you have generously reached out and spoiled me with wonderfully prepared meals, but for the most part, I’m learning to do things in the kitchen I never thought I’d do. And sometimes I even enjoy it!
So there you have it, my friends: my wonderings and my wanderings, and maybe a few of yours, as well. It’s been good engaging in this little ‘conversation’ with you but, of course, it doesn’t hold a candle to being with you in person. With you, I long for the day when we will again be able to gather in our beautiful Cathedral to celebrate Mass together and to experience in ways other than virtual what it means to be a community of faith, what it means to be the Body of Christ. In the meantime, let’s stand in quiet wonder at all the ways God gives us to keep connected and to strengthen the bonds of love that make us the strong community of faith we are!