Is your parish considered “nonessential” in this time of lockdowns and quarantines? How about the liquor stores in your community? If you live in Colorado, your local liquor store or weed shop are considered essential; your parish church is deemed to be nonessential. Politicos seem to fear an angry mob of alcohol- and drug-deprived consumers far more than a peaceful group of Christians. Apparently, Colorado liquor and cannabis are acceptable methods of dealing with anxiety and lack of peace. Yet, no provision exists for gathering together in prayer for the peace that surpasses all understanding. Is this not ironic? Depends on who you ask, I guess.
Crackdowns on “Nonessential” Church Activities
More and more citizens throughout the country are showing their distaste for governmental restrictions imposed due to COVID-19. This includes the faithful who believe government classification of churches as “nonessential” impinges on their right to worship. Some interesting interpretations and applications of the laws regarding worship already have occurred. Consider the police “crackdown” on a church congregation in Mississippi. The police issued citations carrying fines of $500 each. The crime? The pastor conducted a parking lot, drive-in service, using radio frequencies to broadcast his preaching over the car radios. Now, in Kansas City, local officials want churches to register their members for tracking and surveillance purposes. Who could make this stuff up?
Being “Nonessential” or Pushing a Political Agenda?
This nonessential/essential status for churches needs our attention–now. I am no public health expert. Yet, it seems that even the “experts” can’t agree on the nature, severity, avoidance, treatment or probable virus-related outcomes. In fact, some experts and others not part of mainstream media believe that the current quarantine of healthy people clearly is wrong. This presents quite a situation.
A friend of mine who formerly worked in state government told me flat out that people wanting to get back together to worship—to consider churches essential—is, in his words, “pure stupidity.” In subsequent correspondence he shared his opinion that this is all about “self-centered individuals” using liberty and religion as an excuse to put innocent people in danger. In his opinion, this is all about promoting their own “political agenda.” Those statements contain a lot of assumptions. But I would suspect that many non-believers subscribe to them—and some believers feel this way as well.
Pushing the Envelope As to “Essential”
Now to be fair, we’ve read about megachurch groups still meeting shoulder-to-shoulder, apparently without much regard for safety precautions. Reports like this, and this type of activity, just feed into my friend’s and others’ opinions on this matter. Yet, the bottom line is that faithful Christians of all stripes are becoming concerned about not being able to gather in Jesus’ name and worship together, at least in groups of more than 10 at a time. Many Catholics are struggling with restrictions placed on attending the source and summit of our faith. Most of us cannot receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord and Savior
But People Will Be People
Will some people do dumb things, left to their own devices? Of course. We have free will, and some people have worse judgment than others. But is it fair to deny people the right to assemble for worship if they follow reasonable guidelines? And is limiting a gathering to 10 people a reasonable guideline? Depends on who you ask, I guess.
To be fair, I know, from talking with friends who have had it, that this virus can be horrific. To err on the cautious side makes sense if you fall into a high-risk category. As well, following safety precautions in groups is an act of charity. Our Lord doesn’t want a bunch of Typhoid Mary’s and Larry’s running amok, infecting others when they could employ common-sense precautions. He gave us an intellect, the ability to reason and make decisions for a purpose.
Bigger Picture Concerns
A question that comes up in some Christian conversations now is, “How long do we go on with church gatherings being considered ‘nonessential’ until they’re just considered altogether ‘unnecessary’?” Some politicians and their media supporters have an ax to grind with Christianity in general, and with Catholicism in particular. To borrow a phrase from Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, perhaps some elected officials “can’t handle the Truth.” Perhaps some of them wish to be set free of the Truth and the light it shines on their actions. We should pray for them. We should pray, as well, for an end to these restrictions on worship.
Let God Be God
St. Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6) Anxiety, fear and agitation come from the enemy of our souls if we’re trying to live in, with and through Christ. Opportunities to lose one’s peace abound in these times–visit just about any website or watch/listen to any news broadcast. Right now, God is presenting us with a huge spiritual opportunity. It requires our surrendering to God, and His Divine Providence, together with living the Truth in our personal conduct. That means fixing us first–interiorly. We need to pray to God with thanksgiving and petition, asking for the grace to unite our will to His in all things, for His glory. Of course, that means being open to learning what He’s trying to teach us by allowing the current situation to perdure.
As I prayed in front of the tabernacle, Our Lord suggested I take a look at Psalm 40. In the very first verse, David tells us, “I waited patiently for the Lord…” Was I impatient or patient in all of this? Clearly, patience has been a problem for me over the last month or two. Later on, in the fourth verse, I read, “Happy are those who make the Lord their trust…” More food for thought. There’s more where all that came from, but what He was saying is, “Let me be God.” Fair enough. When I conceded He’s God and I’m not, the peace St. Paul writes about washed over me and rinsed off that frustration I’d let build up in my concerns about local worship conditions. Spending more time in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, can yield abundant graces. We need to trust in God—and let God be God.
Prayer and Petitions?
The Greek words dia and bolos mean ‘across’ and ‘who throws’, respectively. Put together they identify someone ‘who throws across’ – one who creates chasms, ruptures connections, breaks down relationships and divides. This is what the devil is – The Divider.
Besides prayer, we need to put on the armor of God, and make our opinions known, by letter writing and participating in petitions to elected government officials. Can these make a difference? Who knows? Depends on who you ask, I guess. While we’re at it, how about charitably voicing our opinions to our dioceses? As I understand it, all our Colorado bishops have made their and their flocks’ opinions known about this–to no avail. Consequently, I’m not sure what more that might accomplish. In spite of the bishops pushing for change, as of late April, word was that the governor wants Colorado churches to continue under lockdown through the end of May, at a minimum.
This, as with so much related to the virus, continues to be in flux, though. The Archdiocese of Denver resumed Masses May 9th. The other dioceses open up Mass a week later. But even as Masses resume, we will not be assembling in the same way as we did pre-virus. For example, in a church built to accommodate over 1,000 worshipers, still only 10 people will be allowed to attend a Mass in most cases, initially. Meanwhile, let’s each get closer to God. Trust in God; do what we must do interiorly and what we can do exteriorly, while we let God be God.