On behalf of Msgr. Al, Fr. John and of course myself I would like to wish all of you a most blessed Easter and assure you that although we are appearing to you virtually, our prayers and best wishes are as Pope Francis says “close and concrete”.
Easter is always a celebration that requires a bit of temporal sleight of hand. We say that Jesus offers us new life, but that new life comes with baptism, which most of us received as infants. We simply do not have much experience of the old life without Him and none of that with much consciousness. That is why Lent is so important. The church over the years has created many exercises and customs which allow us to imagine what life without a relationship with Jesus would be like. A good Lent is one in which we experience at least in our hearts some sense of what Jesus has done and is doing for and with us.
Yet I for one have not always had a good Lent. I do not always emerge with a greater sense of some aspect of my relationship with Jesus. Even when I do, I may find that others in my community have not had a comparable experience. I am also sure that I have disappointed others, particularly new Christians and those involved in their preparation, when my Lent has been lackluster.
This year, however, I think we have all been given the opportunity for a good Lent. So many barriers have broken down, so many expectations altered for all of us that these shared experiences may allow us to create a common future.
Put simply, I think we have been given an insight into what the church calls “solidarity”. Several years ago, Msgr. Lo Pinto and I gave a series of homilies on the church’s social teaching. One of the key principals is “Solidarity”. That is that for Christians it is essential to act in favor of the well-being of all, particularly those who are poorest and marginalized from political influence. It is easy to give lip service to this, but this year we experienced things directly and collectively which would open us to solidarity. Let us examine four areas.
We were told at the beginning of the pandemic that there were some underlying conditions which would particularly endanger people if they contracted the virus. We may have mentally reviewed our medical histories to see if we should be concerned. I had to ask myself if I was now “elderly”. I hope that most of us found that a lifetime of good medical care had produced sound and hearty immune systems. But many have not had this benefit. Most of my adult life has been spent in the African American community, and one day this week 4 former parishioners at Our Lady of Light died. They may have had good medical care for years, but they carried with them the effects of inadequate care as children. I hope that our experience of a personal medical review has shown us why the Church teaches that medical care is a human right, not a civil option, and will spur us to do something about it. Solidarity as action.
We may also have discovered several paradoxes about work. Being able to work from home has meant that we can work longer and harder. The office can often eat up the home. I know of one family where the children performed an intervention to stop their mother from working from 6 AM to 10 PM. Yet for all this, we who can work remotely are by definition “non-essential”. We may be far better compensated than sanitation workers, delivery people and even nurses and first responders, but they are the ones who have made it possible for us to continue our employment and maintain our lifestyle. When I go to the grocery store, I wonder how many of the people who stock the shelves or deliver the food – who are now so important to us, -are undocumented? How many of them will face deportation when this is over? Fr. John put it best a few days ago at our dinner table when he suggested that to reset our society justly, we must find real means of showing gratitude to all those who kept that society moving. Solidarity as healing.
I mentioned before that I had to ask if I am now elderly, and the answer is simple: during this crisis we all are. We have all been isolated to one degree or another. Some of us have been literally alone. This is the usual reality for so many older people. I knew that we had to eliminate the kiss of peace at Mass, but I was very reluctant to do it. For some older people this is the only time in the week that anyone touches them. I previously intellectually understood what this meant but now I think we all know what social distancing can do. Our new normal must include reaching out and touching those who may be isolated for any reason. Solidarity as intimacy.
However unpleasant sheltering in place has been, it is infinitely better now than if it occurred 20 years ago. We are able to use modern means of communication to maintain old and even forge new connections with our fellow parishioners and neighbors. We need to be grateful to our parishioners who developed our platforms and our strategies. St. Paul tells us so often that each member of the Body of Christ has unique skills and gifts and we need all of them. We are organs or limbs each with irreplaceable abilities, not merely cells all alike and uniform. We have seen this operate throughout this crisis and we cannot un-see it. Solidarity expressed in the church is collaborative ministry. We will face many more difficulties in the future which will need to be addressed as the full Body of Christ. We do not know what skills will be needed and what ministries will be created, but from our experience of this crisis we know from where they will come. Solidarity as survival.
This Easter of the virus has revealed something hidden in plain sight: the more we acknowledge everyone as our brothers and sisters, the better we will understand what new life in Jesus really means. We will find it not in what we know or feel but how and whom we love. Solidarity for now and all eternity.