COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: ‘This Is Not a Normal Time’

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Father David BonnarI keep telling myself, “This is not a normal time.” After 31 years of priestly life, I have never seen anything like it. There was, of course, 9/11. That was so surreal. It was a beautiful, sunny day in my neck of the woods, but it was evident that we were in the midst of deep and unsettling darkness. While this event changed our lives forever, we were able to slowly move on as a nation, albeit with heavy hearts, but united in purpose. People flocked into churches to pray. Mourners gathered at the sites to behold the dead. And sports, once it resumed, helped us to cheer again.

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is already transcending the 2001 tragedy that riveted our nation. Already, we have lost as many people to this deadly virus. The scope encompasses not just a nation but the entire world. And the world as we know it is coming to a grinding stop.

Schools are closed. Sports on virtually all levels have been suspended. Stores and restaurants are closed. Masses have been canceled. People have been forbidden to gather in crowds. Employees are working from home. Theaters and gyms are dark. Indeed, this is not a normal time.

But what is “normal”? I suppose there is a certain sense of relativity to this word. What is normal for one may not be normal for another. Whatever is normal is probably not happening. Freedoms have been greatly restricted. Routines have been halted. Life as we know it and live it has been stopped. None of us know how long we will live in this different kind of time.

This new normal for all of us can engender not only anxiety but also intense terror. Every news alert produces more worry. The increasing statistics of those afflicted with the virus, not to mention those who have died, take our breath away. The news of a lack of test kits, along with fears that the health infrastructure in many parts of the world cannot withstand the impact of this crisis, make this all a perfect storm that is scarier than any blizzard or earthquake. And every day there are more restrictions, justifiably so, but so hard to embrace.

This past weekend our bishop lifted the obligation for Mass. I believe this decision was not made out of panic but prudence to mitigate the impact of the virus and protect the general population. I was struck, however, by the number of people, young and old, who still came to Mass. Having reflected upon this in prayer, I have only one conclusion: These people are choosing faith over fear and trust over anxiety.

On Sunday evening our bishop canceled all Masses indefinitely. While this decision, by his own admission, is a cause of great “sadness,” it is made following the recommendations of the health and civil authorities. For my brother priests and me, “This truly is not a normal time.”

Today we prayed a concelebrated Mass together in our chapel. Even though none of our faithful were physically present, one aspect of normalcy for us remains in that all three of us were remembering and praying for our people. We will continue to do so at every Mass.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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