By Mary Catherine Bishop–Pastoral Minister
Hello everyone!! I would first like to share with you how much I miss all of you and I pray daily that God is taking care of you and your families. I also want to thank all of you who are our frontline workers for all the sacrifices you are making to care for all of us.
Having to lock the doors and post signs of closure and celebrate Mass in an empty church that first day was an experience I will never forget. Immediately I felt a sense of sadness that we could not gather together to share in the celebration of the Eucharist, and I immediately recognized how important my faith community is to me. Seeing people face to face, exchanging greetings with hugs or handshakes and yes, cuddling the babies and squeezing the children, have a huge impact on my life. It is through these interactions that I feel connected to, loved by and fed in my ministry as your pastoral minister, because it is through you that I see the face of God.
The first week of my time at home actually felt like a holiday. I took time to sleep, cook for my family and clean my home. As a staff we began to communicate with virtual meetings to plan how to stay connected and support all of you.
Virtual Mass took some time getting used to. The first couple of weeks I watched online in my comfy clothes, sipping coffee, but something felt wrong, so on the third Sunday of my isolation, I decided I would not just watch, but enter into the celebration by creating a more prayerful environment. I made a point of dressing as I would if I were going to the church and I lit a candle and made sure I was in a quiet space. It was this weekend that Fr John introduced the Prayer for Spiritual Communion that we were invited to pray and wow, what a difference that made. When I spoke the final words of the prayer “never permit me to be separated from You” I started to experience great emotion and I realized that God was inviting me into this moment with Him, and although I could not receive His physical body, I knew that he would still fill my soul with nourishment. Making myself truly present in the Mass allowed me to experience God’s presence. This is not a new concept for me. I have been teaching this to others for years, but at this time in my life when my world as I new it had been turned upside down, I was having difficulty hearing the voice of God in my daily prayers.
My personal encounter with Christ helped me recognize that I needed to be still, and quiet and not try to control everything around me. God was always there, speaking to me, I was just too distracted to hear him. I had allowed the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 to take over my thoughts. So I stopped watching the news and starting searching our parish website for opportunities of prayer. I made daily Mass a part of my day and started to pray a Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots asking Mary to help me trust in her Son. It was during these nine days of prayer through Mary that I began to feel less afraid of the unknown days ahead and began to understand that my purpose was still the same as it had always been, to be a faithful disciple serving God through loving others.
Through my prayers of this Novena I was given the grace to recognize that the work I was doing in calling parishioners; supporting Fr. John and Fr Pedro from behind the scenes; organizing food deliveries to the poor; being present to my family; and spending more time with God, was my purpose.
I entered Holy Week with a heart ready to join Christ in His suffering and experience the Glory of His Resurrection. Our celebrations were so beautiful and my heart was filled with true Easter joy!
I choose to celebrate the blessings of COVID-19. There have been so many stories of love, kindness, generosity, sorrow and sacrifice throughout this pandemic which have united us all. It would be a shame if we came out of this unchanged. For me personally, the blessings have been abundant. Having the time to call parishioners and actually have a chat and share in their journey has been a great pleasure. So often I am running from one thing to another that I forget the value in taking time to reach out to others, including my family and friends. I recognize the need for my presence at home with my family and accept that life in the parish does exist without me. Most importantly I have been shown that I don’t need to be on pilgrimage or away on a silent retreat to stop and be quiet. I can, no I need to do this each and every day. I want to share with you two photos of me that were taken in moments when I felt God’s presence during my pilgrimage to The Holy Land. The first is of me on a wooden boat on the Sea of Galilee and the other at the top of the Ruins of King Herod’s Palace with Bethlehem in the distance.
I believe that we all have many lessons to learn from our time apart and that this crisis is an opportunity for us as to press the reset button of our lives and truly focus on God’s desire for us as a Church. How can we change the things of this world that are not of God? What can we do to be advocates of change? How can I live my life for others? These are just some of the questions that I will continue to take to prayer and I know trust that God will in his own time reveal his plans for me.
As we approach the Feast of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us, and we too are sent out to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection! Christ Has Risen! Alleluia!