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COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Crossing the Threshold

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There is a beautiful meditation about church doors by Father Romano Guardini (1885-1968) that was recently recounted by Dr. Owen Phelps, Ph.D., in the March 2020 issue of The Priest magazine. The whole idea is that the doors are the point of entry from the outer world to the inner world. When one opens the doors of any church, they leave the hustle and bustle of life and enter the sacred and holy. We cross this threshold so many times in our visit to a church that we can easily take it for granted.

Since Saturday evening, March 28, 2020, the doors of all Pittsburgh churches in the Diocese of Pittsburgh have been closed and locked. Although private Masses continue to be offered every day by priests for the faithful, the sacraments have been temporarily been put on hold, making this portion of the Lord’s vineyard during this pandemic a Church without sacraments. This is just another prudent attempt to contain the invisible poison of the coronavirus, which has wreaked great havoc on our world and our Church.

The impact on the Church does not end there. The other day my parochial vicars and I learned that a member of our faith community tested positive for the coronavirus. One of my parochial vicars, Father Tom, had contact with this person two weeks ago. Because Father Tom developed what may be mild symptoms, we were instructed by health officials and our bishop to seek self-isolation. Father Tom is living in self-isolation at a separate residence and will be tested for the virus. Father Ben and I remain self-isolated in the rectory for the next 14 days.

Not only have we been separated from our faithful for the last two weeks, but now the three of us, who have lived and worked together for the last two years, are distanced from one another. All the things that we worked on to keep the mission of the Church going in this tumultuous time, like livestreaming the holy Mass, the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, we are no longer able to do as we are in quarantine. This is a real fact that each have had to embrace.

Thankfully, through the magic of technology, we brothers have been able to maintain contact. We also remain connected with our faithful through email. On Sunday, March 29, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we did what we have done every Sunday in our priesthood. We celebrated holy Mass for our people. What was so different is that we each had to do this privately ever so mindful that our churches are closed and parking lots are empty.

Nevertheless, Jesus lives in the Eucharist. No one can contain him and no virus can thwart his presence. The work of the Church continues. We priests remain brothers in Christ even from a distance. And the People of God continue to love their priests. The prayers, greetings, emails, texts, calls and meals to us three priests from our parishes of Our Lady of Grace and St. Bernard have been overwhelming and humbling.

The doors of our churches may be closed, but the hearts of our faithful remain wide open as they pray and support us lowly and, for the time being, isolated priests. What amazing grace! I trust they know that even in our exile we are praying for them.

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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