By Fr. Mark Arnzen
Pastor St. Lucy Parish
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020
The new reality of ministry has hit us all like an avalanche. I was on the last day of my annual spiritual retreat when the news filtered in – we would no longer be celebrating public Mass in the parishes of our Diocese. At our Monday staff meeting, we worked, planned, and discussed how this new reality would work in our lives. As we walked out at the end of the meeting, the news came through that we were to begin to “shelter-in-place,” and all public ministry was curtailed.
The past few weeks have been a strange time as almost all contact with the parish has been done through online streaming, telephone calls, and talking from six feet apart. It was not something I was trained to do nor wanted to do as a priest. Building relationships, listening and comforting, sharing good news and celebrating is where we had been, but now we are somewhere else.
This became a stark reality in two ways these past weeks. First is the death of a parishioner. We have had four long time parishioners die these past few weeks, and these moments have been some of the most difficult in my priesthood. Seeking to listen, comfort, and pray with someone over the telephone. Sharing the heartbreaking news of their beloved mother, father, husband or wife’s death, and then having to give them the news: we cannot celebrate a funeral Mass at this time. The silence was deafening, both over the telephone and in my heart. Hearing the soft cries of a daughter or husband and not being able to reach out to care for and comfort them is impossible to put into words.
The second reality is the isolation we are all experiencing, both as priests and the many members of our parish communities. In reaching out to all our parishioners over the past few weeks, we have heard both stories of sorrow and joy, but we have mostly heard stories of hope. The day after receiving a phone call from our outreach team, a widower wrote me a beautiful note that he was doing well but also that he appreciated just hearing a voice from the parish and the prayer they shared together over the phone. We also helped to point people who were in midst of feeling the stress of buying food and other necessary items towards the partnership of Catholic Charities and Second Harvest at St. Martin of Tours Parish. All these moments, both joyful and sorrowful, remind us of how Jesus calls us, even in telephone calls, to be sisters and brothers to one another.
As Easter morning comes into our lives, we know that our self-isolation echoes that of the first disciples after the death of our Lord Jesus. While our time of isolation is much longer than the three days experienced by the apostles and the other disciples, we are experiencing the same fears and doubts about our future as they experienced. This is where, I as a priest, and every follower of Jesus Christ, must look to the light of the Cross in choosing the hope of faith. There is hope at the end of the tunnel, where darkness becomes the light of Easter morning. Our journey has not come to an end, nor have the problems of life disappeared. Instead, we are giving a perspective that allows us to know that death and darkness are not the last words but rather love and life of Jesus Christ sing out in our hearts.