By Deacon Manuel Quintana
What if we were to meet Jesus here in Brooklyn or Queens and he asked us: Do you also want to leave? (John 6:60-69) What would our answer be?
Well, right now, you and I, we’re residents and parishioners in the Diocese of Brooklyn. So, in part, there’s our answer: We’re not leaving.
But, if like some who were disciples in St. John’s community, we were wanting to drop out, we wouldn’t have to look hard for a “plausible” justification. These past 19 months have been an ordeal for each of us. Much has gone wrong, considering COVID-19 and more. Yet, we stay — why? What keeps us here?
The Lord Himself gave us the answer: On the day St. John describes, the Lord told us our faith is a gift from the Father. We have received it. We keep it alive; we keep it active: We pray; we seek the Lord’s words of life in sacred writings. When possible, we’ve been strengthened by the sacraments the Lord has instituted, especially the Eucharist.
We also know we’re not the only disciples who have ever suffered. We find inspiration in the saints — not because they were perfect (they were not), but because they endured to the end.
We need to look no farther than St. Teresa of Avila. She prayed, but for 10 years, the Lord’s response was “Nada!” She stayed with it, and, in his time, the Lord did answer. Their relationship grew and became so personal, so reverential, and so familiar that psychologists today might call it “I/Thou.”
Once in winter, when crossing a river on her way to a convent she had founded, her saddle slipped. As her sisters helped her out of the freezing water, she looked to the sky and said, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies!”
From St. Teresa, we’ve learned: No matter what, we stay in prayer.
Dorothy Day also knew about endurance. Born in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, and now proclaimed a Servant of God on her way to canonization, she faced adversity and, like us, kept going.
Surely, there were times when, maybe like us, she wondered why. In one of her prayers, she asks the Lord to give her strength when she feels unsure of herself—and even of her love of God. Dorothy Day can be both a consolation in troubled times and a confirmation for telling the Lord we’re not leaving. But there are others who used to gather with us for our parish’s Masses, and they’re not here now. Are they leaving? Have they dropped out? In lieu of talking with them, there’s no way to know.
St. John tells us the Lord Himself spoke to his disciples when some were leaving. So, shouldn’t we follow his example? What if we each called someone we know, someone we don’t see in church anymore, talked with them, and really listened?
If we learned they’re worried about catching COVID, we could tell them we worry about that too, and Bishop DiMarzio has said anyone who’s not vaccinated has to wear a mask and sit far away from everyone else. And he has said that everyone who is vaccinated should consider wearing a mask too. This is to make everyone who comes for Mass as safe as they can be.
If we learn they’re not coming because they have not been vaccinated, we could tell them what Pope Francis has said: Thanks to God’s grace and the work of many, we now have vaccines…They grant us the hope of ending the pandemic … but only if we work together. Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other…
I pray to God, Pope Francis says, that everyone may contribute their own small grain of sand, their own small gesture of love.
After we’ve listened and heard them, we could speak about why we agree with Pope Francis and urge them to listen to him too.
And if we learn they’re not here because they think something’s missing in the parish, we can listen even more carefully, ask more questions, and think about whether we agree.
Then, we could consider what we might do to make our parish ever more beneficial to ever more people — in things spiritual and in things temporal.
Deacon Manuel Quintana runs the Continuing Faith Formation Group at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph-St. Teresa of Avila, Prospect Heights.