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Continuing Vigilance and Generosity of Spirit

In Governor Parson’s executive order lifting statewide health restrictions on June 16, and Bishop McKnight’s subsequent response to the executive order, local leadership has been called upon to assume a greater responsibility for keeping people healthy during this pandemic. Here are a few points to consider as we respond to a continuing crisis.

You hear this line a lot, “The safety of our customers (or students or fans or employees or visitors) is our primary goal.” I often have a chuckle, depending on the context, because this phrase is used in countless press releases after a major accident where serious injury, loss of property, or even loss of life has occurred. Under my breath I mutter:  no, your primary concern is making money, or protecting the reputation of the company, or minimizing responsibility of your institution. I would imagine that many others are tempted to that same cynicism when they hear these words too.

The pandemic has been a challenge to our integrity. Do we really put health, safety, and well-being first, and make uncompromising choices to support those values? Leaders in every community are getting a serious lesson in walking the talk at this time.

Jesus calms the storm, Stained glass window from Visitation Catholic Church, Vienna, MO

I have been working with staff, commission leadership and membership, health care professionals, and fellow clergy to formulate and put into practice protocols for health and safety. We have all been making great sacrifices, letting go of so much that is important to us—companionship, our customary forms of worship, even enduring great economic hardship—in order to stay healthy and assist in keeping others healthy. We know health is a basic need. We are even willing to risk our own health for the good of another. We are also doing our best to ensure that we are not risking the health of others in meeting a less important and perhaps self-serving need.

Given the recently documented COVID-19 transmissions in our surrounding community, and given that we host people from many different places not only from our state, but from farther away, it is expedient that we continue to be diligent in health and hygiene protocols. July 4 is on a Saturday and if previous weekends are an indication, the Lake area will have large influx of people. This isn’t the time to relax our discipline. We will continue to keep to the script that was published on May 7 which has been updated to reflect current public health recommendations and Diocesan recommendations.

One change from the CDC is noted, the change from 60 to 65 for beginning the age group that may be at higher risk for severe sickness from COVID-19. We will continue to enforce social distancing with the help of ushers and seating restrictions. Since the use of a face covering is a clear recommendation and an effective practice in keeping people healthy—including the CDC recommendation to high risk groups to avoid gatherings where masks are not worn—we will continue to require masks in church at Our Lady of the Lake. I would like to remind people that daily Masses afford an opportunity for worship for folks who would otherwise want to avoid larger crowds.

I understand that the protocols for worship have created hardship for many. The small crew of ushers and other ministers, including those who stay behind to clean the pews and other surfaces, are giving many extra hours of service. Many people still are not coming to services out of a reasonable caution for their family’s health.  The challenge of finding a parking spot and entering church easily has discouraged participation. Some folks are unable to comply with best practices for being with others and our notion of community has been tested.

I know people are struggling with patience. We all wish it would go away soon. We are getting tired and discouraged, and even tempted to doubt that all our efforts are in vain. In my conversations with people about the desire for patience, I remind them that patience and compassion have the same root. Both are words born out of suffering. Patience isn’t the absence of suffering but instead the ability to turn suffering into an occasion of grace, taming immediate flurry of emotions, and finding the strength to endure. Compassion too is born of suffering. Compassion is solidarity with the pain of others. In the grace of compassion, God is revealed in Christ as we embrace our cross and share His cross as we carry the cross of another.