6th Sunday of Easter – Pastoral Letter
If you don’t remember, these were my concluding words from the homily given for “Good Shepherd Sunday.” During these challenging times, we need to look at all words of comfort and encouragement, especially those found in Sacred Scripture. We are people of tremendous faith… we need to continue to listen and trust in the Good Shepherd… who works in and through each one of us and to embrace the new opportunities that await all of us. As your parish priest, I model my life on Jesus, the Good Shepherd. I listen to the Lord’s voice that speaks gently to my heart. The same Lord that speak to your hearts as well.
As you have no doubt heard, the province is now in the ‘orange phase’ when it comes to risk. Although we have done very well in our province, the same cannot be said about those who surround us (with the exception of Prince Edward Island). We are NOT in recovery yet, let alone beat this virus. The medical professionals continue to encourage us to practice social distancing, stay home and away from all types of gathering. We may not have the virus or have signs of it, yet there is still the unknown… who are the carriers? In other areas of the world who are in the process of reopening, the rate of virus has increased, sometimes with a vengeance.
Every Wednesday, the priests of this diocese have been meeting with our bishop. Countless conversations regarding the inability to celebrate Mass, have been the focus of our conversations. Some priests have taken it upon themselves to have ‘outside Masses’ (tremendous amount of work and expense) or ‘live-stream’ with ‘distributing communion’ to those in cars (UNSAFE) to address this issue. However, this has not addressed the total situation. The bishop has taken the approach to respect the shepherding or leadership of each priest and what he is doing for and with his respective communities.
At all times, we need to keep in mind that this is a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. People are dying… daily. We have never experienced this type of sickness in our lifetime. I continue to listen to both our Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and our Premier Blaine Higgs who are instructed by the medical experts: Dr Theresa Tam and Dr. Jennifer Russell. In his last address, Trudeau asked us not to ‘let down our guard…’ or ‘drop the ball…’ by being careless. When we gather, in any number we are chipping away at our success. The PM said, “I don’t know about you, but I do not want to spend the whole summer in isolation…” With that in mind and giving consideration for my responsibility as shepherd, loving, leading and protecting you, the flock, Holy Spirit Parish will not open for liturgies or communion during the ‘orange’ phase. When we move to ‘yellow’ phase, I will re-evaluate the situation. Please remember that we are still dispensed from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. As well, there are ample opportunities to tune into any number of Masses throughout the world. Last Sunday, I joined Pope Francis. Please check our website or that of our diocese for some possibilities to join in praying the Mass.
Some of my reasons for this decision includes the following:
- Safety is paramount. This is a virus that kills. We may not have it or have signs of it, but we could still be carriers. We are all at risk, especially the most vulnerable among us: people over 60 and our very young. Once again, our medical and government leaders continue to promote safety precautions. Many priests and ministers from other traditions share this concern. They, too, are taking cautions approach by moving very slow. They, too, are taking their call to ‘shepherd’ or ‘lead’ a community very serious. As shepherds and leaders in a community, they too, love and will protect their people at all costs. I have both asked and received total support from our Revitalization Committee in this decision and I am asking you to do the same.
- Respect for the Eucharist: I will not treat the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith as a ‘fast food’ item that is delivered to a parking lot or received as a ‘drive thru’ or ‘pick up’ window. No doubt you have heard that a few clergy have chosen to do this. They have their own reasons for doing this and I am not judging them. However, I have to listen to God who speaks to my conscience.
- Holy Spirit Parish is known as a “welcoming community” and we have worked very hard to build this pillar of our community. When only a limited number of people are allowed into Mass while others sit outside, or have to wait for another Mass, both fly in the face of who we are. Vatican II calls us to be a community to ‘welcome full and active participation of the faithful.’ This cannot happen when we are not together in one space.
- Live-streaming: I am concerned that once this pandemic is over, live-streaming may still become a viable option for some, negating the importance of a ‘gathered community’. No doubt already we have come to realize that this is just a ‘temporary option.’
Despite the challenges that face us, I believe that this truly is a time of Grace. I marvel at the hard work that continue to prevail at our parish and in our homes. Although we may not be able to receive Eucharist at this time, I am am so happy to hear how people are “living the Eucharist”! I am extremely happy to hear people are taking this time as ‘opportunity’ to work on their own spiritual formation. Look at those who are praying through “Mass for shut ins”. Or those who gather each week and pray the rosary with our bishop. The work and contributions made to our website/faithbook pages; Those who place hearts in their windows, offerings support and appreciation to those who do not get the recognition that they truly deserve: hearts in windows; painted rocks found on different paths or walkways all offering encouragement. As well, the contributions made to our food banks, the financial contribution made to our parish to maintain our expenses; checking in and calling our vulnerable parishioners; and the list goes on. At our Revitalization Committee meeting last night, more ideas ‘to live Eucharist or to be church’ came to the forefront and will be presented to you. Again, it is so beautiful to see the many acts of Eucharist that are being carried out within our community and to hear how we are living it!
As mandated by the Province of New Brunswick, we need to have a written protocol in place for when we do open again. That means a lot of work needs to be done. First, we need to set up a committee to ensure that all safety measures are in place prior to opening. I want to thank Mark Palmer has agreed to set up a committee in putting our method of procedures (MOP) in place, again, following the provincial safety guidelines.
Again, this is not forever-we will beat this. In the meantime, we will join the majority of other communities, using our common sense and move forward… cautiously. Like the new buds on the trees waiting to break forth, something new is breaking forth in us and it is going to be beautiful! As God’s own, we are resurrection people. We are constantly growing and being formed in the strong faith we have. Know that I love you and I miss you very much and that you are always in my prayers! We will get through this… together. And remember: “… to move forward we need to listen to the compassionate voice of the Risen Jesus. As people of faith, we need to continue to trust in the Good Shepherd and allow Him to lead us through the ‘Gate of his love’ and to embrace the new opportunities that awaits each one of us. Amen.”
Fr. David Martin