Friday, March 13, 2020

Don't panic, be prudent and pray: UPDATED

Well, today is Friday the 13th, right? I should just now be wrapping up a 10-day trip to Rome. But thanks to COVID-19, I am sitting in my den trying to figure what to write for this Friday. My wife and I did manage to take a trip. Leaving last Thursday and returning early Sunday evening, we traveled to Torrey, Utah. This beautiful little town, which we hadn't visited for nearly 20 years, sits just outside of Capitol Reef National Park and not too far from the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument and Bryce Canyon. We had a very nice time hiking and relaxing. We attended Church at Saint Anthony of the Desert Mission in Torrey. With a congregation of 6 and one of my brother deacons presiding, we did Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest. I am hopeful we will make it to Rome in the not too distant future.

No sooner did I start typing this yesterday evening than, along with the rest of the clergy of my diocese, I received a memorandum from my bishop. It states that beginning Saturday, 14 March, all public celebrations of Mass will be suspended until 31 March or until further notice. Catholic schools are closed, religious education programs are suspended, etc.

UPDATE: In response to questions posed in a comment, I will add that since my bishop only has charge of the diocese in which I reside- the Diocese of Salt Lake City, which consists of the entire state of Utah- these measures are for my diocese only. I am not aware of what other dioceses are doing. I would clarify that my bishop has asked that churches and chapels be kept open for private prayer. Priests are to continue to be available for the sacrament of penance and anointing of the sick. Of course, priests administering these sacraments are to take prudent precautions. It is my sincere hope that priests will celebrate Mass everyday, even if by themselves or with a very small congregation.

By canceling mass gatherings, public health officials seek to "flatten the curve" (see "How canceled events and self-quarantines save lives, in one chart"). What this means is that cancellation of events won't stop the spread of the virus and ultimately may not even limit it much in scope. The point is to slow the spread of this coronavirus to a manageable level, a level that does not overwhelm hospitals and local healthcare systems. Such slowing will save lives.

As a non-expert, the only advice I give is to calmly follow the guidance of officials at the national, state, and local levels. While it may be prudent to stock up on some non-perishable food items, it is not necessary to horde. The production and distribution of life's necessities should not be dramatically disrupted by what we're currently experiencing. Remaining calm and acting prudently is important in these situations.

In addition to doing the above (or not doing in the case of panicked purchasing), it is important to pray. Pope Francis has given us a prayer to the Blessed Virgin. Yes, it mentions the people of Rome. As Roman Catholics, can we not be counted among the populi Romani?

Over this past week, I have been praying an additional Rosary in the afternoon for the full recovery of those who have contracted the virus, for the repose of the souls of those who have been killed by it, for the safety and welfare of healthcare professionals who treat the sick, and for government leaders and public health officials that their decisions will be wise and prudent. My final intention is simply for the spread of the virus to be arrested.

If you're praying the Novena to Saint Joseph in anticipation of his Solemnity next Thursday, please entrust these or similar petitions to his intercession. For those who are physically able, in addition to praying also consider fasting for these intentions. While this should absolutely not be seen as a divine punishment, we can use this in a penitential manner both personally and communally. I believe the old phrase is "offer it up." We offer it up in the confidence that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross our offering will be acceptable to God.

I think many of us can seize this as an opportunity to draw to closer to God and strengthen solidarity in our communities. While limiting social contact, ensure that your elderly parishioners and neighbors, as well as those with compromised immune systems, like people suffering from cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy, are taken care of without having to expose themselves to unnecessary risks.

I can think of no more fitting traditio for this Second Friday of Lent than the great Maria Callas singing Ave Maria.


  1. Good well measured post.

    Clarification please: Have you cancelled all Catholic Masses in your diocese or throughout the USA? Here in the UK we still hold Masses but all hymn books and prayer sheets have been taken away. No Holy Water in the fonts at the entrance of the church. Compulsory cleaning of hands with disinfectants as we enter the church. No sign of peace. No Holy Blood of Christ at Communion. Some churches give Communion on the hands only.

    I am at a loss on what to make of this. It is the devil's greatest triumph when we close our churches. Here in the UK a lot of churches are closed in daytime because of vandalism. Only open for Masses. Should vulnerable people, (e.g. with medical conditions), stop going to Mass? We are not getting clear advice from our Catholic church here in the UK.

    I agree with you, this is not a punishment from God. Perhaps He is letting us sort it out for ourselves by saying, "OK folks, you seem to know better - then thy will be done!" Or perhaps He is giving us an opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, decide what is really important, and use the opportunity to help and care for each other, and unite as a people of the whole world to find a solution.

    God bless.

  2. Don't panic. Pray. Makes sense to me. Well-said.


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