Editorial: In a time of uncertainty, our priests are stepping up

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Father Ken Gill, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons, Md., livestreams noontime prayers March 19, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish)

This is a confusing time for everyone. The “new normal” doesn’t feel normal at all. Words like “quarantine,” “self-isolation,” “pandemic” and “incubation” suddenly have become common parlance. Many of us are finding ourselves with stretches of available time — time that used to be occupied with meaningful and productive work or recreation. Some of us are feeling like we have no purpose. There is fear and anxiety over the unknown.

With public Masses canceled and many of us ordered to stay at home by local governmental authorities, our faith routines, too, have become abnormal. We’re struggling to adapt — tuning in to TV or livestreamed Masses and being intentional about reaching out to loved ones.

For our priests, the challenges can be even more acute. Not only are they literally separated from their flocks, they are now on the front lines of a battle, in which it is their duty and privilege to serve the sick and dying.

Father David Bonnar, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and editor of The Priest magazine, has been documenting the many changes and challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to his parishes and pastoral ministry — including how it has changed how he administers the anointing of the sick.

“What I had done thousands of times — that is, bring comfort to the dying and support to families — was now so scary and somewhat compromised,” he wrote at ThePriest.com. “I could not stay. I could not comfort with a handshake or embrace. It was so different.”

No, the “new normal” doesn’t feel normal at all.

We can only pray that what we are witnessing in Italy does not come to pass in the United States. In that country, more than 60 priests — as of this writing — have succumbed to the virus. Many were hospital chaplains and likely contracted it by administering the sacraments to the sick and dying. We must remember these good and faithful servants in our prayers. Their sacrifice, made in service to the Church and its people, cannot be forgotten.

During this time of separation and quarantine in the United States, while we are separated physically from our priests, we cannot forget about them. As the clergy sexual abuse crisis has unfolded throughout the past 20 years, good, faithful priests have taken a beating. On the front lines in another sort of battle, they have faced censure and frustration and criticism, even though they had done nothing to deserve it. Yet during this crisis, they have brought their A-game in service to the People of God.

Many priests are livestreaming Masses, sending regular updates to their parishioners, providing virtual catechesis or retreat opportunities, and going live on social media to offer love, support and prayer to their communities. They’re offering drive-thru confession lines, drive-up Eucharistic adoration and are literally suiting up to anoint the sick. Their passion for Christ and joy in his service cannot be contained, and their dedication to the Church and the faithful is truly inspiring. We thank them for their ingenuity, their sacrifice and their love, and we invite all readers of Our Sunday Visitor to join with us in praying for their good health and safety. As Pope Francis said during a recent Mass, “Let us also pray to the Lord for our priests, so that they have the courage to go out and go to those who are sick, bringing the strength of the word of God and the Eucharist and to accompany health care workers and volunteers in the work they are doing.”

We would be remiss if we did not also acknowledge the leadership of several bishops, especially those who literally have brought the Eucharist to the people. In Tyler, Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland stood on a busy street corner during rush hour holding a monstrance. In Milwaukee, Archbishop Jerome Listecki brought Jesus to all corners of his archdiocese.

“As the local shepherd of the flock, Archbishop Listecki went out to the entire Archdiocese of Milwaukee to formally lift up the Church in prayer. Through his witness to prayer and God’s care for His people, Archbishop Listecki invites everyone to deepen their confidence in Divine protection and blessing,” the archdiocese posted on its Facebook page.

We are grateful for our priests, who are reminding us that, even when there is a “new normal” to get used to, the permanence of Christ and his Church does not change.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.