Brothers and sisters, as I write to you today, it has now been more than six months since the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted all of our lives. You would think that dealing with these circumstances for this long would give us a better sense of what we can expect, yet it still feels like every day brings something new. This certainly makes it tough to lead, because the minute we make a decision, the circumstances change and we have to adjust.
Our recent decisions regarding the dispensation from the Sunday obligation are a good example of this. As I made the decision to end the dispensation, our experience of safely holding Masses over the past few months without outbreaks gave me the confidence that we were ready to take this step. However, as you all know, each of the counties in the diocese is now experiencing “very high activity,” so we had to reinstitute the dispensation. Circumstances changed and we all must adjust.
The words I have chosen to guide the diocese during this pandemic is written in the title above: “to be bold in faith and prudent in action.” We must remain bold in our faith during this time, but, in doing so, we must ask ourselves whether our actions are prudent. I have wrestled with this in my prayer and wondered what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this important virtue, “prudence.”
Paragraph 1806 of the catechism says: “Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” In other words, prudence helps us to prioritize among different goods. Worshipping together is good, and so is taking care of our own health and the health of others. Prudence helps us to decide how to balance these goods.
The catechism also notes that prudence is not to be confused with timidity or fear. Choosing to wear a mask and limit our contacts with others is not about fear, but about using our reason to do what is good for ourselves and for others.
The current surge in the virus is so much worse now than what we saw in spring when the pandemic began. As a pastor, this weighs heavily on my heart and conscience. Thankfully, I am coming to realize that God isn’t asking me to face this alone.
This past summer, I was on retreat at the Carmelite monastery in Denmark, and I have to be honest, it was the worst retreat I ever made! I didn’t sleep well at night and I felt the Holy Spirit weighing heavily on me. I could almost feel the Holy Spirit getting down into my gut and twisting and twisting.
But it’s turning out to be one of the most fruitful retreats I’ve ever made. You see, the insight I got through my retreat was this: I had been assuming that the Holy Spirit works for me. Now that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I had to learn that I work, and so do you, for the Holy Spirit. And the more we welcome the Holy Spirit to operate in our lives, the more the Holy Spirit will be free to lead us. What an incredible gift!
I’m just beginning to understand what this means, but I’m finding that, as I allow the Holy Spirit to work, it’s making my mission and vocation a little bit lighter because I’m not taking on things that really are not my responsibility anyway. The Holy Spirit wants to be active today in and through the church to bring healing and hope to our world. Let’s accept this gift!
So friends, as we continue to navigate these challenging times with ever-changing circumstances, I hope you will join me making space for the Holy Spirit. I believe that doing so will allow us to be bold in faith and prudent in action. Let us pray mightily for the end of the scourge of this pandemic and for the protection of each one of us, our loved ones and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ and in the human family. Jesus reminds us to not be afraid. Let us place our trust in him.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.