Now What?

June 1, 2020
Chris Lyford

Here in the Diocese of Santa Rosa we have been blindsided by an invisible reality, and have spent the last 75 days hiding from it. The thing with invisible realities is that we have to take someone else’s word that they exist, or use reason to conclude it exists even though we can sense it. We can’t see oxygen, yet take it away from us humans and we die. Just so, as a result of following the prudence of our elected civil authorities we sheltered in place, and received a divinely permitted, merciful warning (as all warnings are): we were given the chance to catch a glimpse of life without the Sacraments.

One thing we do know in the history of our Faith, that the Virgin Mary has always been our refuge during times of trouble. Now more than ever, we need to run to her with all of our concerns, pray for her intercession for all of our needs, and give our hearts to her as all children do to their mother. In all of this, our confident prayer can be “Mary take over”!

“You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone”

We have no Church without the Sacraments, we have no Sacraments without our priests, and we have no priests without our Bishops. We didn’t have a shortage of Priests during the lockdown, we just couldn’t meet in person. We didn’t have a shortage of grace either, we just had to receive it in a way that required deeper faith. We sheltered in place from a deadly virus. We closed our Churches out of charitable prudence and under obedience to the civil authorities. We went into our homes and locked the doors. Stored up food to be able to shelter in place against the assault of what seems like an odorless, tasteless gas.

Does this seem like a trial run, or a test of some kind?

The leaders of the Catholic Church exercised their responsibility with much grace and prudence, in accepting the directives of the local civil authorities. Regardless of whether one believes that God Our Father and creator of the universe can protect us from being harmed, we chose to walk ‘with’, rather than walk ‘away’ from the path of the general public.

Masses were live streamed, viewed by thousands in the Diocese of Santa Rosa alone. Parishioners who didn’t even know their parish had a Facebook presence, or social media profile were frequenting those sites every day and sharing the links with dozens more, thus increasing the numbers in their virtual community by the dozens. Because of the Masses being Live-streamed from the familiar surroundings of the parish, into the even more familiar surroundings of the living room at home, something new began to happen.

A manifestation of Jesus Christ
The presence of God was made manifest inside the intimacy of our families. The Mass was somehow more present because we had no distractions, and more intense imagery because of the powerful silence within which our priests, now more valued than ever before, offered the essence of their own being for the Church; the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

All of the schools, Parishes, and offices of the Diocese responded quickly and obediently to the ‘shelter in place’ orders. Almost at the same time people began to put into action their own inspired acts of hope as a response. In Napa, a group began working on putting together a system of support for their community. Hoping to cover 5 main categories; 1. Work or Business-related assistance and or guidance. 2. Spiritual Support. 3. Family Support/Emotional Support. 4. Home Schooling Support. 5. Necessities or Immediate Needs Support – the group called the project ‘Agape’ after God’s ‘unconditional’ love.

Jesus took away all the distractions so that we could take a good look at His Heart, a good look at our own, and a good look at the difference.

A hunger arose for the Spirit of God, for the Faith, and for the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Different Lent, different Eastertide

This was a Lent under the Direction of God in Heaven as retreat master. Some took the invitation to a spiritual journey heart, and responded with obedience. Others continued to keep vigil at the fires of fear and confusion spilled out the screens of death. Their seemed to be an overarching atmosphere of ‘choice’: the choice to believe or not believe what we were hearing; to ask for God’s grace, or forget it when deciding what we believed; to act or not act on what we believed; and to consider those around us (or not) when acting out our plans. We even had a choice to ask whether God Himself had something to say about all this.

We have been given an opportunity to asses our priorities. Sunday Mass, fast food, Starbucks, toilet paper, Fox, CNN, fear, hope, love, selfishness.

The New Normal

What’s next? That is entirely up to us, individually and as a Church. We can chose to rush back to the same creature comforts we enjoyed before March 15th, or we can harvest the wisdom from what just happened. Somehow I don’t think we will even be able to do that because I hope we will be busy supporting and assisting those families who lost jobs, and experienced other setbacks.

St. John The Baptist, Napa

Sadly our oldest parochial school will close at the end of this school year after it’s 108th year serving the educational needs of Catholic families in the Napa area. “After evaluating the current situation, which included a range of possible budget scenarios for a 2020/2021 school year, and factoring in substantial losses in fundraising due to the coronavirus pandemic, it became quite clear that our beloved school is no longer financially sustainable", said Deacon Joe Oberting, the school's principal.”

Did we realize that we value our family? Then we must show it in a real way. Did we realize we value our Parishes and our church? Then we must show that in a real way. Before the shutdown, we needed to update our commitment to parish giving and even connect with online automatic giving, however small. Now it is crucial to do so. We need to tell and show our priests that we value and appreciate them. We stayed connected during the solitude of lockdown, now let’s stay together as things open up!

Plenty of wood to chop

Here are some of the practical tasks that you with have to implement at your Parish in the coming weeks (courtesy of the California Catholic conference). How can you be pro-active in making this next season an experience of joy and evangelization?

·       Re-calculate the capacity of the parish church with proper physical-distancing protocols.  Seating should be assigned to every other pew.  Use as a guide for your calculation: One family per pew or at least six feet distance between individuals.

·       Plan a temporary schedule of Masses, allowing for sufficient time to clean the Church between each Mass.

·       Protocols should be designed to clean the church before every celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

·       Protocols should be developed for the ministers of communion providing hand-sanitizers for the ministers as well as hand-sanitizers for communicants.

·       Provide instructions on reverently receiving communion in the hand.  If anyone chooses to approach communion receiving on the tongue, ministers are to sanitize their hands immediately afterwards.

·       Given the reduced number of people able to gather for the Sacrifice of the Mass, instructions will be proposed in a subsequent communication to manage the number of people allowed to gather in a respectful way.

·       Consider how to conduct the offertory collection, during the preparation of the gifts, in a way that will provide reasonable compliance with public health precautions.

·       Online giving has become an optimal way for parishioners to continue their weekly financial commitment even when unable to attend Mass.  Information and assistance on how this can be implemented is available through the Catholic Foundation.

·       Pastors can anticipate that the general dispensation from the obligation to attending the Sunday celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass for the Diocese of Sacramento will continue until further notice.

·       Also, be advised that those who are 65 years of age and older as well as those with vulnerable health conditions should continue to shelter-at-home.  This includes members of the clergy, both priests and deacons.

·       The pastor should use his pastoral judgment regarding the offering of Communion to the Sick and the Anointing of the Sick.  Exercise the necessary precautions so as not to risk spreading the infection.  This practice should be limited and for an urgent pastoral need.

Catholics, be who you are! You are sons and daughters of the living God and heirs to His Kingdom. Your currency is love, and your debt can never outdo God’s generosity to you. Trust in Him, live your consecration to His Son Jesus Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, consecrate every day to St. Joseph the worker and the protector of the Church and Family. Especially during this month of May let us gather in our homes and pray the Rosary for peace, healing, for our shepherds. Be the sign of God’s love for those around you, and with God’s infinite grace, become a shelter of hope in every place you find yourself!


Chris Lyford is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Santa Rosa