Hope in the Lord — Catholics come home after the pandemic

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

If you found the experience of virtual participation in the sacred liturgy of the Holy Eucharist uplifting and worthwhile, imagine what it will be like for you to participate in the Holy Eucharist together with the people of God.

So many people have expressed gratitude for the opportunity for virtual participation in Sunday Mass, especially during the most recent Holy Week services. Certainly, when the restrictions of the pandemic are lifted, we will be much savvier in our abilities to use live streaming and other methods of modern media to reach out to others. There was a smaller group, however, whose message was, “I can’t wait to get back to church so that I can participate more deeply. I really miss coming to church for Mass.” My hope is that even those who before the pandemic were distant from Christ and His church and were not in the habit of regularly participating in Sunday Mass, might take this occasion as a moment of grace to return.

I read recently about a quote from Father Walter Ciszek, S.J., who was confined to a Soviet Union prison camp for 23 years. I have a special kinship with him since he was born around the same time as my mother in the same town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. He is quoted as saying, “Sometimes I think that those who have never been deprived of the opportunity to say or hear Mass do not really appreciate what a treasure the Mass is.”

This coming Sunday — called Good Shepherd Sunday — the second reading is from the first letter of Saint Peter, chapter 2. “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace from God.” Of course, Saint Peter had in mind Jesus, the innocent one who suffered for us and whom we remembered during Holy Week, but the pandemic also has caused a true suffering of separation and distance.

Many of us have used the occasion of self-quarantining to read good literature. That was my suggestion in a recent message I videotaped for youth and young adults. I shared with them my choice to read the seven little volumes of C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” written in the 1950s. Over 85 million copies of this series have been sold, and it was truly a delight to enter into the imagination of this Christian writer. The books tell of children being transported magically to another world and the adventures they encountered. It also introduces them to the lion named Aslan, a clear symbol of Christ.

“The Chronicles of Narnia” imaginatively convey virtues in a way that the child in each one of us can understand. Courage, friendship, a willingness to fight for what you believe, having faith, realizing that lying is never good and having imagination are all lessons from “The Chronicles of Narnia.” If you have not read it, it is well worth reading.

C.S. Lewis made a distinction between receiving and using great works of art and literature. Using a great book involves picking or choosing a quote here or there that strikes your fancy or confirms something that you already know. As a homilist, I understand that temptation. However, those who receive great art and literature allow themselves to be immersed in the experience that the author is conveying and to be changed.

Recently that distinction came to my mind at the beginning of Mass when I invited the faithful to celebrate the sacred mysteries. In fact, we are invited at the beginning of Mass to enter into an experience in which the mysteries of Christ envelop us and change us. Importantly, we do so as the body of Christ — as a community — not simply one at a time.

There is a movement in our church called “Catholics, Come Home.” Recently I watched a half hour program on EWTN produced by “Catholics Come Home” that describes a middle-age couple who re-discovered their religious roots and began to participate in their local parish. It strikes me that the pandemic, once behind us, might leave a lasting good effect — the re-awakening of a thirst for Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Pray for the end of this pandemic, for the victims, for healing — and for Christ to allow this time of suffering to welcome all of us, His people, who come home with a renewed vigor.

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