Undoubtedly, during these days you have heard someone reference the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Not only one of literature’s oft-quoted passages, these words speak something of the human experience in every age when struck by “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way (Gaudium et spes, 1).”
These are days which test us in many ways. Such tests often bring out the best and worst in us. They stretch us to our limits, not to break but to expand our capacity to love, hope, and believe. And, there is much good to acknowledge and celebrate. We can see in ourselves and in those around us the best of human care and concern, a flourishing of prayer and deepening of the spiritual life, as well as many other signs of wisdom and light to brighten our day. Together, we struggle to fight against the despair and darkness that come with a sense of helplessness and frustration. Here, the fight itself manifests the “best in us” as we claim our call to live as “children of the light and of the day (1 Thess 5:5).”
As the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania begins the slow and arduous transitioning toward the next phase of this crisis, we, too, as the Church in southcentral Pennsylvania begin to chart our path forward. Directives have been given to our parishes for the possibilities available to them in this next step. Some may judge these to be overly cautious. However, they are prudent and careful steps toward the restoration of public worship. In compliance with the directives of the Governor and the Department of Health, each parish will begin to move forward. This transition will require time and patience.
We must all consider the demands of charity and justice. The commandment of charity, to love, is at the heart of Christian life. The virtue of charity creates within us a selfless and other-focused love that begins with God and extends to our neighbors. The closing of the churches and their slow reopening is not an expression of fear but charity and concern for the well-being of the many who gather in our sacred spaces. We are responsible for one another, our “brother’s keeper,” as Genesis (4:9) reminds us. Our rights and desires are never to be exercised at the price of another’s safety. The law of charity must prevail and the current crisis provides a rich opportunity to demonstrate this.
To that end, out of charity and justice to our neighbors, I ask that as our parish churches reopen and transition to public worship in this Yellow Phase, parishioners attend their own parish churches and respect the stay-at-home order for those who remain in the Red Phase according to the designation by the State Government. Not only does this prevent the comingling of persons outside each county, it allows fair access to their parish churches. As this restoration spreads throughout the Diocese of Harrisburg, each parishioner will have his or her opportunity to return.
I am aware of the sacrifices you have made throughout this quarantine, not only in the practice of your faith life, but also in your families and communities. This instruction is not intended to add to your burdens. Please know that, along with all the clergy, I am eager to return to some normalcy in our liturgical and sacramental lives. As grateful as I have been to celebrate each Sunday with so many of you from our Cathedral broadcast, it is heartbreaking to process to the altar through an empty church. This was especially so during Holy Week. Yet, these sacrifices are offered in charity because our respect for the dignity of every human life needs to be grounded in our practical actions.
Each parish will be formulating a plan for the gradual restoration of public worship. Your pastor has been asked to work with pastoral staff and parish lay leadership to develop a plan that is prudent and fitting for each circumstance. If you have any expertise that could help in this task, please contact your pastor and offer your wisdom and experience.
As we have entrusted ourselves once more to the Blessed Mother on the first day of this month, I invoke once more her protection and intercession upon all of God’s People here in the Diocese of Harrisburg. May she keep us from danger, teach us the path of virtue, and lead us closer to her Son.
The Bishop will be celebrating the Annual Chrism Mass on May 12 at 10:00 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick. The Chrism Mass offers the faithful a solemn occasion to witness the blessing of the oils and the consecration of the Sacred Chrism that will be used in the celebration of the sacraments throughout the coming year. Also during this Mass, the priests of the Diocese will remotely renew their commitment to priestly service that they made on the day of their ordination.
The liturgy will be live-streamed on the Diocese of Harrisburg YouTube channel. Chrism takes its name from Christ, the anointed one of the Lord. The Sacred Chrism is used in the Sacrament of Confirmation, the anointing of priests in the Rite of Ordination, and in the dedication of new altars.
The current outbreak of COVID – 19 can cause stress for some people. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations and sometimes fear and anxiety may become overwhelming. Stress is the body’s defense against real or imagined danger. It can be that feeling when you are struggling to cope with the challenges of life, including COVID -19. You may experience changes in sleeping and eating patterns and concentration. Taking care of yourself, your family and friends can help you cope with stress.
The CDC suggests some ways to cope with stress during the COVID – 19 pandemic:
Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories,
Taking care of your body
Breathing exercises, stretching, meditation
Eat well-balanced healthy meals
Exercise regularly, if able
Get plenty of sleep
Making time to unwind. Try to do activities you enjoy.
Connecting with others. Talk to people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Tele-conferencing with family and friends to catch up on each other’s lives and activities.
Stress and Children
It is important to remember children react, in part, by what they see in the adults living around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID – 19 stressors calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Watch for behavior changes in your child that could indicate stress. (Go to www.cdc.gov for specific behavior changes in children related to stress)
Some ways to support your children include:
Talk to them
Answer questions & share facts in a way they can understand
Reassure them they are safe.
Limit exposure to news coverage
Try to keep up regular routines
Be a role model
Taking care of yourself, your family and friends can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with stress can also strengthen your community. Taking time for prayer and reflection can provide quiet moments for your body and mind to breath, relax and rejuvenate.
If you or someone you care about are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and these emotions are getting in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row call your healthcare provider to discuss your situation.
As we continue to face the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the USCCB has invited all United States bishops to join him and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on May 1 (this Friday) in renewing the consecrations of the two nations to the care of our Blessed Mother.
This act of consecration or entrustment is meant to be a reminder to the faithful of the Blessed Mother’s witness to the Gospel and to ask for her intercession before her Son on behalf of those in need.
The reconsecration will be at 3 p.m. (EDT) on Friday, May 1. Bishop Ronald Gainer invites all clergy and the faithful to join him by sharing in this experience. Liturgical guides are attached in both English and Spanish to assist those who wish to participate.