Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It’s a rare email that I receive these days that the writer doesn’t speak about their restlessness and anxious desire to once again be able to celebrate Mass with their community. Whether here in Tucson or any other place, people are feeling the effects of a lack of face-to-face interaction with those who share their faith and traditions. I’m realizing that a lot of my ministry these days is in trying to just help people to be patient in the midst of this pandemic and to realize that even though these are difficult days, they are days in which our faith can grow and our fellowship with our Lord can deepen.
In the midst of trying to reflect on how I can be a bit of a help to all of you, some beautiful and encouraging verses came into my thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. You remember that Paul and his companions had founded the little church there in Philippi which is looked upon as the first church in Europe. You would remember that one of the first converts there was a woman named Lydia. Later a jailer and his family also converted to the faith. None of these are mentioned in Paul’s letter, but the deep love and concern that Paul had for that entire community is woven throughout this letter. At the time of writing to the Philippians, Paul was in prison, and it grieved him that he was denied direct fellowship with these dearly beloved ones as a result. But rather than being swallowed up in his grief, he communicated his heart to them by this letter. In the 4th chapter we have the following words (and I’m using an older translation here because of its beauty):
“… for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” - (Phil. 4:11-13)
Paul, apparently, wasn’t the most patient or accepting person because he writes that he had learned to be content. It came to me that perhaps what we’re enduring in these days is meant to teach us some very valuable lessons. What is it that I am still in need of learning? Am I content with my place in life? What do I still need to learn about contentment? Am I appreciative of the blessings I have received in this life? What do I still need to learn about being appreciative? Do I value those who share my faith? What do I need to learn about the value of our fellowship? Do I rejoice in the giftedness of others? What do I need to learn about that?
No, these don’t need to be wasted days at all. I wouldn’t doubt at all that each of us could discover a multitude of things that we could be working on in our spiritual lives that might help us grow. Think of how wonderful it will be when we are once again able to come celebrate Mass again! If we are wise in the ways we’re using these days, then we will not be the same people we were when we last had fellowship together; we’ll be better! So, let’s continue to look forward to good days together again, and above all, don’t let your hearts become discouraged. I believe discouragement is one of the greatest weapons Satan uses against God’s people, so let us keep faithful in these days to the One whose love for us is not diminished. We have much to learn and much to be working on.
One other thing that folks continually ask us here in the office is if we have heard anything about when the churches will be reopening. The short answer is, “No, we haven’t.” I don’t want in any way to create a false hope in people by saying anything about “possibilities.” At one point, word was going around that maybe by April 30 things would open back up again, but the 30th of April has come and gone, and with its passing there was no little disappointment, confusion, and, unfortunately, anger. So, as I’ve written before, I will do all that I can to communicate with the parish when we have received definite word about reopening. I encourage you to check in on the diocesan website, www.diocesetucson.org, for any news or updates as well. I am deeply committed to writing to you each week, and I will certainly let you know anything I learn as soon as I learn it.
Finally, I must say I am so incredibly proud of this parish for the wonderful ways you have checked in with me as to how you’re doing, and I’m humbled by the numerous personal emails I’ve received asking how I’m doing. I’m doing well. I’m missing you. I look forward to seeing your faces and hearing your voices again. Until then, I’m learning to be content.
Thanking God for the rich blessing that you are in my life,