The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie
Photo by Tim Rohrbach

Op-ed published by the Erie Times-News, 3.22.2020

There is no better time to grow in our faith than in a moment of crisis.

          That is one of the points I made in a letter I sent to Catholics across the Diocese of Erie last week. It was a letter I never could have imagined writing — a letter suspending the celebration of Mass in public until further notice.

          If what I wrote is true, our faith is going to grow by leaps and bounds. The anxiety we have been experiencing as part of the global community, and now as a nation about to face the full force of COVID-19, is extraordinary. The knowledge, ingenuity and can-do spirit we are used to relying on is certainly in play. But it’s hard not to be thrown into disarray in the face of so many unknown variables.

          This is exactly the moment we need to stop and recognize that we are not doing battle alone.

          “Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?” Jesus asks in Luke’s Gospel. “Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.”

          God is aware of every single worry, every fear, every concern in our hearts. He understands how difficult it is to balance working from home with the needs of our children. He also knows if we are suddenly without work. He is aware of how helpless we feel, not being able to visit our elderly parents.

          I’m not suggesting faith will make all of this just go away. But I am saying it will help us navigate the path before us, one step at a time. And I know for certain that we can find relief by quieting ourselves in the midst of the fray and entering into God’s presence wherever we are.

          That’s a good thing, given the need to refrain from being in large groups. Remember the comfort we found as we gathered in places of worship in the days after 9/11? A few people have indicated that if we truly had faith, we would not be afraid to get together — that God would protect us. My response is that God also has given us common sense!

          I find it interesting that we are experiencing this crisis in the middle of the season of Lent, a time of sacrifice. We’ve had no choice but to retreat from our normal routines. The question before each of us is, how will we respond? Let’s not waste it. 

          Consider some of the opportunities before us.

          Are we embracing the chance to spend time with our family members, choosing to be a loving presence as opposed to one of anger and despair? Are there elderly neighbors who could benefit from an inquiry about whether or not they have enough food in the pantry (made from an appropriate social distance of course)? Is there an old friend who would appreciate a moment of distraction a phone call or a text message would offer? What treasures might we unearth in keeping holy the sabbath as individuals or as families?

          At this point, it appears likely we will not even be able to worship together in time for one of the high points of the Catholic and Christian faith, Holy Week and Easter. But rather than focusing on our disappointment, let’s see what we might discover during this unusual moment. The Internet is filled with creative, entertaining and inspiring responses to this crisis. Italians singing with each other from their windows. Pope Francis making a mini-pilgrimage to pray in the empty streets of Rome. Pastors taping photos of their parishioners to their pews so they do not feel alone while celebrating private Masses. (Did you know every priest is still offering a private Mass every day? And in our region, I’ve asked them to pray for you, the people of their parishes and neighborhoods.)

          Lent is not just spent in darkness and sacrifice. It also is spent in anticipation of the glorious celebration of Easter and new life. With God woven into every moment of our lives, we will get through the significant challenges brought about by the pandemic. Having truly lived the Easter mystery, we will know joy. We will know peace. And we will know new life.