Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It was one year ago this month that the coronavirus hit our diocese full force and I made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend public Masses in the interest of curbing the virus’ spread and keeping people safe. The suspension lasted two months. Back then, it was hard to imagine the pandemic would continue for so long and require so much from us. This is our second Lent coping with its effects.
Our parishes and faith life continue to face many challenges because of COVID-19. People are tired, frustrated, and some are angry — angry that daily life and parish life have been upended for so long, angry that we as a society didn’t do a better job protecting the many vulnerable who succumbed to the virus, and angry at some of the tough decisions that I and other bishops have made in what we believe are the best interests of the faithful and the common good.
But we also have learned many valuable lessons that should give our diocese hope for the future. I believe we’ve gained a renewed appreciation for the importance of spending time with family and friends, including fellow parishioners — something we have been mostly unable to do in-person for the last year. We have learned the importance of staying connected even when we’ve had to physically distance. I was so impressed by the outreach of parishes, especially in the early days of the pandemic, to the elderly and homebound through phone trees, cards and emails.
Many of us received a crash course in using new technologies for meetings and teaching. I hope we continue to use these new tools of ministry, not as a substitute for in-person gatherings, but as an added resource that can supplement what we already do and make it even better. I hope, too, that we have gained a better appreciation for the Eucharist. Livestreaming keeps us connected to our faith, but it doesn’t replace being truly present together as the Body of Christ for the sacrifice of the Mass. I look forward to the time when we can all safely come together again for this gift and sacrament of unity.
So how might we observe the three pillars of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — in light of the ongoing pandemic? Let us pray especially for the ill, the isolated and for those struggling economically because of job loss. Let us fast from selfishness and everything that diverts our attention from the needs of others in our families and communities.
And, when it comes to almsgiving and charity, in addition to offering gifts of time and money to worthy causes, let’s follow the guidance that Pope Francis offers in his Lenten message, in which he cites his latest encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (“On Fraternity and Social Friendship”). The Holy Father reminds us to be kind to others, “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference.”
Kindness is an act of love that’s especially needed amid the anxiety and sorrow over COVID and other societal challenges today. It is another kind of vaccine — one that that can heal hurting hearts — and our world could use an extra dose of it right now.
May God bless you and your loved ones,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud
Photo: A parishioner applies sanitizer to her hands as she enters a church in New York City on May 26, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz)