As Catholics, how will we emerge as a Church from the COVID-19 crisis and this unprecedented time of social distancing? Perhaps after all the scandal and corruption in recent years, this moment marks an opportunity for Catholics to reassess what is most essential to our faith, and to move forward as a renewed Body of Christ to proclaim the Gospel. Will we emerge from this time with a deeper love for Jesus in the Eucharist? Will this love draw others to believe when so many disbelieve?
By now you may be aware of the woeful numbers of those who actually believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. A 2019 Pew Research statistic indicated that only a third of U.S. adults who identify as Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This statistic should shock us into action!
During this time when we can’t receive Jesus in the Eucharist, does our desire for Him burn in our hearts and become a light to those who don’t believe? Do our priests who are celebrating privately become renewed with a zeal to share God’s special and abundant grace? When we receive the Body of Christ, do we become the Body of Christ so that others might encounter and know the Lord? Will we emerge from this crisis with a deeper love for our brothers and sisters within our own Catholic community?
The Church can be hopelessly divided. At times we are divided because of ideology, and we are more than willing to allow the powers that be influence our understanding of Catholicism. There are other times when we become insular and unwelcoming, forgetting the evangelical mission essential to the Church. How can we be a sign of God’s love in the world when we are divided or don’t care about one another?
The Oneness of the Church that we profess in the Creed is often overlooked. However, we can’t be fully holy, Catholic or Apostolic if we are not one. Will we emerge from this crisis, when we have been isolated from one another, with a deeper appreciation of our need for one another? Or will we to continue to allow ideology and petty grievances continue to divide the Body of Christ? Will we emerge from this crisis with a deeper calling to serve those in our community who are most vulnerable? As we know, COVID-19 poses a particular threat to the elderly and sick. Many of us live daily with the fear that our parents or grandparents will contract the disease. We also see daily the risk posed to the elderly in nursing homes.
Pope Francis has spoken often about the importance of listening to the wisdom of our elders, and of valuing their contribution to our families and society. When we return to our daily lives, will we emerge with a newfound honor and respect for our elders? Will we make a commitment to visit them and listen to their wisdom? Will we emerge with a passion to serve other forgotten and neglected populations?
This time of isolation also provides an incredible opportunity to pray. Are we using this time to develop good daily habits of personal prayer? Are we actively searching out opportunities to connect in prayer with our parish family, our pastors, Bishop da Cunha and Pope Francis? Are we making a Spiritual communion and being sure to observe the Sabbath by praying the Mass online if possible. Are we praying with our families? We should not underestimate how much God blesses us and holds our families together when we pray together. We certainly have plenty of time for Netflix and XBox, but are we making time for prayer? If we do so, we will emerge from this period strong in our union with God, and able to accomplish great things through His love and grace.
In every crisis lies an opportunity. This is a moment of great opportunity for us as Catholics to live up to our calling as the People of God. It is our calling which brings great gifts, but also great demands. Can there be any doubt that God desires a people of passionate faith, rooted in prayer, powerfully renewed in the gift of the Eucharist, united in Christ and prepared to help those who are most vulnerable among us? Hopefully we will soon emerge from our homes with a prayerful and renewed sense of mission to proclaim and live the Gospel.
Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ‘30).