"Blessings from the Left Hand Of God"

People of Saint Martha Parish,

This is a time to choose what matters in life and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.  It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”  – Pope Francis

It’s probably really gonna hit us in the next week or so.  Not just the disease – that’s already a first-rate bio-hazard.  I’m thinking of the deep reality of how isolated we are growing from each other and from the routines that have been, for each of us, a significant element of our self-understanding.

We all have been made aware that it’s quite possible to be an unwitting, asymptomatic carrier.  And so, while feeling perfectly healthy, we carefully avoid visiting anyone’s home.  Deliveries, by us or by others, are made to the front porch.  Our necessary trips to the grocery store, the gas station, the post office involve almost no interaction beyond a cheerful smile and a gracious word.  And don’t even think about an in-person meeting, or about having breakfast or lunch with a friend.  On a sunny day, three persons are seen sharing an outdoor conversation, standing in a wide triangle, eight feet apart (eight being the safest way to assure six).

We weren’t made to live like this.

And yet we must, at least for the next while.  The one earthly measure could rescue us would be the timely arrival of a vaccine.  But there is no indication that we’re anywhere near a vaccine being developed, tested, approved, put on the market, widely distributed, and made available to us through our local doctors and nurses.  (When you say your prayers, please include one for the folks working on that vaccine.)

In particular, we are going to feel enclosed, cut off, isolated this coming weekend.  It will be Easter.  The exultant celebration of The Greatest Thing that Ever Happened.  The day the impossible occurred.  The day the impossible became, not just possible, but certain for you, for me, for our children, for everyone.  It’s the day we joyfully exclaim “HE IS RISEN!” and hear the response that has echoed across twenty centuries, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”  This year, the amazing news can be shared only with family members.

Spring is coming, and the increase in sunshine and warmth will help.  But governors show no inclination to loosen the tethers anytime soon.  And jobs, and the small businesses that provide them, continue to disappear every day.

So.  What is the Catholic Christian to make of all this?  And – with the novelty of the challenge well behind us – how can we defend ourselves against the doldrums?

Forty-some years ago, I was blessed to live in Leelanau County – the “little finger” of the Lower Peninsula, just west of Grand Traverse Bay.  It happened to be the years when that snowy county was setting its all-time snowfall records.  What I learned in a hurry was ya can’t fight that kind of a winter, ya gotta embrace it.  Get the right truck, the right dog, a good pair of snowshoes, some cross-country skis, warm woolens, simple recipes for hearty meals, and then lay in a few more cords of firewood than you think you’ll need.  And then go ski a trail in snowy woods.

In these messages, I’ve offered some suggestions about how to use these days well.  You want this to end tomorrow and so do I.  But it won’t.  So how can we embrace this change in our lives?  What do we need to be doing to stay reasonably content?  How can we refit elements of our former routine?.

For instance, as Catholic Christians, the rhythm of our faith life is the rhythm of the liturgical seasons.  Like Catholics in the big cities who once identified neighborhoods with parish names, our experience of the Church year is cabled to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and to all the feast days that fill the Church’s calendar.  That’s part of why this year will seem so bizarre.  (“What?  Easter Mass is cancelled?  How can that be?!”)

Yet the loss isn’t total.  We know it will be Easter.  And we’re blessed to be living in an era where there is so much – so very much – outstanding Catholic content available to us.  FORMED
 is free to us.  Magnificat is free to us.  Much of Bishop Barron’s Word On Fire ministry is just a click away.  We can adapt – it just means doing things a bit differently.

And some of what we’ve been pushed into – the extra prayer time, the walks, the books, the gardening and yard work, the deep cleaning of our homes (garages, closets, dressers, cupboards, freezers, drawers, sheds, attics) – that’s good stuff.  Those changes might qualify as being among the proverbial “blessings from the left hand of God” (no offense, lefties, it’s an old saying) that we can cherish.

The most useful thing into which we’ve been pushed is a sharp increase in family time.  I’m not so simple as to suppose that more time with family members always feels like a gift, but these days will be long-remembered and, in due time, fondly remembered.

I mean, who knew that we’d wake up one morning as a nation of home-schoolers, facilitating the electronic instruction offered to children and grandchildren by devoted teachers in remote locations?  The “domestic church” is getting new meaning as families, beginning to pray aloud together, discover how rich that sharing can be.  Family meals – something we included in the Saint Martha School covenant – are now part of everyone’s life.  I’m confident that, when the constraints are removed, more than a few families will decide to keep part of what they now feel they have been pushed into.


Let me now move onto something else.
I’d like to give you an update on several aspects of parish life.
First, our educational programs.  Our Saint Martha School teachers are on the job – totally on the job.  Principal Andrea Patton is leading a remarkable and prompt conversion from face-to face instruction to on-line instruction.  And the school is not simply providing academic content.  Parents and students are receiving all sorts of thoughtful material on how to navigate this new reality.  Exactly the same thing is happening for our parish families whose children are enrolled in the Religious Education program.  Director of Faith Formation Jackie Rosalez likewise is doing a remarkable job of maintaining instruction and providing tools help families survive and prosper.
Second, you should know that these messages (and efforts like coordinating forty parishioners to phone everyone in the parish) aren’t just my doing.  One of the great joys of my time at Saint Martha has been experiencing the talent and generosity of so many parishioners.  In these challenging times, I’m relying heavily on a team of three staff members and three volunteer parishioners, plus a fourth parishioner who is assisting with the video content.  I’d list them, but each is the sort of cheerful and humble person to whom it would bring no pleasure to be named in a note like this.  Suffice it to say that they are outstanding representatives of this parish – a parish that could just as easily produce several more cohorts of persons to provide wise and thoughtful counsel.

Third, as I’ve mentioned, our finances have taken quite a hit.  As you would expect we’re cutting spending down to what is absolutely necessary.  Federal programs continue to be rolled out and clarified on a daily basis.  (The pace often is even more brisk than that – it’s not unusual to get multiple successive notifications within a day’s time.)  The National Association of Diocesan Attorneys and the corresponding association of diocesan chief financial officers are this weekend discussing a program that is a few days old – one that might allow us to maintain our payroll using federal funds that would not need to be repaid.  (And, yes, opportunities that seem too good to be true often are.  Hence the caution.)  As has been the case since my arrival, the members of the Finance Council have been a tremendous help, and their wisdom remains one of the things that allows me peaceful sleep at night.

Fourth, you will probably be hearing more from us about converting your financial support of the parish from envelopes to on-line giving.  Even when Masses resume again, it is likely (unless somehow we all have been effectively vaccinated) that attendance will be down, particularly among some of the elders whose consistent support is both greatly appreciated and much needed.  You entrust your donations to us, and we take quite seriously the obligations of proper budgeting and stewardship of that money.  From your end and from ours, it works better if you are consistently giving in regular increments the amount that you and your spouse have prayerfully decided is the proper amount. If you're ready to make the move now, please go to the St. Martha Giving Portal .  If that's daunting, see our website for more information or just leave a message on the parish office phone, (517) 349-1763, and we'll get back to you.

Fifth, we’re not in the bunker.  Just before our current situation hit, the Parish Pastoral Council concluded a most rewarding Vision / Mission / Values exercise.  (You will recall being asked for your reaction and thoughts, as the process was under way.)  With the help of our Parish Communications Committee, the elements identified through that process will be presented in coming months, and will guide our programming for the next few years.

All right.  Tired of reading yet? 

Let’s go for walks, pray with our families, get our blood pumping.  Let’s call around to family, friends, and neighbors.  And then call around again.  Let’s find ways to support small businesses and their staffs.  Love your family.

I’ll end with this.  We’re heading from Palm Sunday into Holy Week.  Late in the day on Good Friday, and all through Saturday's Jewish Sabbath, it seemed that all was lost.  Even after the Sunday Resurrection, when the angels asked Mary Magdalen, “Why are you crying?" she responded “They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him.”  Likewise Peter and others, imagining that everything had been for naught, were ready to return to their old ways of fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  But then Mary met the Risen Christ, whom she supposed to be the gardener, and heard Him say her name.  And the disciples espied Someone cooking them breakfast on the shore.  And, in a moment, all was well – no, all was infinitely better than just “well.”  

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is King of the Universe.  He will get us through this.  May he bless you and your families.  And may you have a powerful experience of Holy Week, as you share these days with those whom you most love.



Are you looking for a way to celebrate Holy week in your own home? Click on this link to find adaptations of the Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday Rituals for Family and Household Prayer.
*Prayerfully prepared by the editorial team at Liturgical Press.

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