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Longing for the Sacraments

As I write to you in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I am struck by my original topic for this month’s column: the importance of the sacraments to our growth as disciples of Christ. At a time when our sacramental practices are interrupted, it might be  tempting to set this theme aside. With the mandate to keep at least six feet distance from one another, and the suspension of the public celebration of Masses and other sacraments, we are all pained by this sad reality.

The care for the common good necessitates these restrictions; our love of God is manifested in our love for our neighbors. We cannot separate these loves without grave risk to both. At the same time, as your bishop, the restrictions were not easy for me to issue to the faithful of Eastern Washington. In fact, I did so reluctantly. And I know they are difficult for your pastors to follow. As priests, we were ordained to preach the Gospel and bring the sacrament to God’s people. The desire of so many to return to Mass, looking and hoping for ways to make the sacraments available as soon as possible, testifies to the power and importance of the sacramental life.

Until recently, our modern world seemed far away from the plagues that often struck our ancestors. We assumed that advances in science and medicine removed us from the heartache that periodic outbreaks of various pestilence have caused humans throughout history. This outbreak of the coronavirus has brought that idea to an end.

In our modern world, it also seems that many find religion outdated. The pandemic may change that. A study from a professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark has found that for every 80,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, there has been a doubling of online searches for resources about prayer.

As Catholics, we know our faith is timeless; that the truths revealed by Christ are true in every age. But even as faithful Catholics, we can be surprised by how little security all our technological might has provided in the face of this plague. We can and should thank God for the tools we have developed that allow us to fight this disease, but we must see plainly that on our own, there are some things that still remain out of our control. This reminder can lead us to despair or to renewed trust in God.

I pray that, in spite of our present difficulties, this time will be an ongoing experience of the presence of Jesus Christ in your hearts and homes. May your desire for the sacraments and to again join in worship with your parish communities ignite in you a deeper desire for intimacy with our risen Savior. May our love for God and neighbor be strengthened.

God bless you.