By Msgr. Steven Aguggia
The Coronavirus pandemic has been the cause of much upheaval in the lives of many people. From the devastating death of loved ones to the minor inconveniences the lockdown has caused, people have suffered in various ways. One suffering experienced by Catholics has been the deprivation felt by so many of the Church’s daily life. There have been no public Masses, no celebrations of sacraments (save for emergencies), no gatherings, no retreats, no pot-luck suppers, nothing.
“The Churches are closed,” many said. Some even go so far as to claim that our Bishops have “abandoned” us during this crisis.
How far from the truth that is! Statements like those perhaps come from a deep longing to be practicing our Faith as we were used to doing. Hopefully, statements like those do not come from a place of hatred or severe criticism of Church leadership which has done everything during the pandemic lockdown to be present to people, albeit in new and challenging ways.
The Bishop of a Diocese has great responsibilities. One of those is the well-being of the people. That well-being is both spiritual and physical. Why? Because we are body and soul and it is just as much a sin to neglect the body as it is the soul. Otherwise, why have parish dances alongside parish Holy Hours? Why have a Sports Program along with a Bible Study Class?
Our Bishop, our pastors and priests, and many others have strived to provide for the spiritual needs of the people in this challenging time. There are streamed Masses and recorded Rosaries, televised Retreats and teleconferenced Bible classes and so much more, all this in an attempt to reach out in a troubled time. Many have said that their spiritual lives were, in some strange and mysterious way, enriched by the experience.
Did the Bishops capitulate to secular authority and close churches? The answer is “no.” Bishops heard the sound advice of health professionals. They sought the solid guidance of those who understand how disease spreads. They saw the directives of civil authorities and applied them accordingly.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, “the epicenter of the epicenter” of the pandemic in the US, Bishop DiMarzio took the difficult step of mandating the closure of Churches. This was not a move he made on a whim. It was not something he relished doing. It was something necessary for the good of the people. It was, in fact, an act of love for God’s people in the Diocese.
“But,” you may ask, “what about our souls? What about our need for absolution from our sins and especially our need for Eucharist?” Of course! That is a necessity. Jesus left us the sacraments as ways to experience His Grace in our lives but we must not limit God, not even to the sacraments. Given the risks of public gatherings, for this relatively short time in our lives, cannot God be present in other ways to us? That is not to belittle the power and importance of the sacramental life of the Church but it is to proclaim that God is bigger than even the Church.
So, “no!” The Bishops did not abandon us. “No!” They have not deprived us of God’s Grace. “No!” They have not closed churches in obedience to secular authorities. They have, purely and simply, acted out of love and concern for the People of God.
We must refrain, too, from making comparisons. Brooklyn and Queens are not the Midwest or California or Europe or even Manhattan. What’s best for us may be different from what is good for others. Some Bishops determined it best to do one thing and some another. We may not all agree; however, one thing we can and should agree upon in this crisis is the care and concern for all God’s people which underlies these difficult and challenging decisions. Soon, God will bring us through this. He has been with us. He did not and never does abandon us. God is present even in Pandemics.
Msgr. Aguggia is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Brooklyn.