Three lessons for the church from COVID-19 crisis

By Julianne Stanz | For The Compass | April 8, 2020

My husband Wayne and I were so excited that our daughter Ava would be celebrating her first Communion on April 25 this year. We had prepared well for the sacrament and her new dress and veil were hanging in her closet. Even my family from Ireland would be here with us to celebrate this special day. But then COVID-19 hit.

In just a short time, the way that we live, where we pray, how we grieve and how we celebrate has all changed. Mass has been postponed, the celebration of the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation have been paused and we no longer are able to physically receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. There is so much pain, sadness and uncertainty right now. But there is also hope, joy and faith in abundance. Much has been lost through this pandemic but we are also learning some very valuable lessons.

The church is present in sacrifice
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for each one of us and today we see just how many sacrifices are being made for others. The church is present in the rooms of those who are dying and in the homes where parents are trying to balance keeping their families safe, educated and nourished, all while trying to work from home. The church is present in those who work tirelessly at our grocery stores and the truck drivers keeping supply lines moving through the country. The church is present in those who are on the front lines of essential services including our military and police services, health care providers, farmers and all those who are sacrificing for us now. Sacrifice is at the heart of the Lent, because it is who we are as a people of faith.

Jesus is with us; let us make him known to others
Even though public Mass is not happening right now, private Masses are still being offered every single day by our courageous priests. You are loved and remembered in the Eucharist and although we cannot physically receive Communion right now, may this time heighten our longing for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This is a time to make a spiritual communion and join in prayer with all those around the world who also long to receive the Eucharist but cannot. While we cannot be physically present to our family, friends or the wider community right now, we can extend our physical presence to each other virtually and also by safely providing for the needs of those who are struggling in our community.

Together for better, for worse, in sickness and in health
The vows that we take in marriage could be the same words on each of our lips today — we take each other for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. We will get through this together, by standing together and sacrificing for each other. While it seems that many events are canceled right now, the church is not canceled. You and I, the collective “we,” are not canceled, for we are the body of Jesus Christ and where we go, Jesus goes too. When we keep the presence of Jesus in our hearts, we become, as I tell my children, little “tabernacles with feet” that move the presence of Jesus out into the world. Jesus is the heart of mission.

Yes, these are unprecedented times, but we are strong through this. The word unprecedented means that something has never happened or been known before and while many of us have never experienced a time quite like this, the Catholic Church has certainly weathered stranger and more unusual times.

Through 2,000 years of history the Catholic Church has survived persecution, pestilence and the plague. She has survived the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Bubonic plague, various famines, world wars, civil wars and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. She will survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and let’s be the church we are called to be — alive, dynamic, prayerful, courageous, faithful and bold.

Stanz is director of Parish Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church,” from Loyola Press.

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