COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Self-isolation Can Be a Penance

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Father David BonnarFor an extrovert, self-isolation can be a real act of penance. As a lifelong extrovert, I have come to appreciate the beauty of solitude more and more. Nevertheless, solitude and isolation are two different realities. Solitude is usually freely chosen while isolation is something typically imposed.

In my current isolation, I have tried to follow a structure keeping busy with prayer, exercise, emails and little projects interspersed with rest. This state of aloneness is not easy, however. In fact, just three days into my quarantine, I was ready to climb the walls, even though I am not a climber. When I shared this frustration with a co-worker, she said, “Okay. Go take a drive in your car.”

I responded by saying, “I cannot do that because, God forbid, if I were in an accident I would have to exit the vehicle and potentially expose someone to the virus if, in fact, I have it.”

On the StrengthsFinder Index, responsibility is my No. 1 strength, which is both a blessing and a curse. The fact of the matter is that, out of my own stringent sense of responsibility, I would never want to become a risk to someone else.

Ministry always contains risks. Every priest knows the risks that come with following in the footsteps of Jesus. At the same time, our bishop reminded us in a recent conference call with priests that “we can never become the risk to our people” with this coronavirus. This is the main reason why the public celebration of holy Mass is suspended and churches are closed, and together we need to honor stay-at-home orders by the government.

Although my parochial vicar Father Tom’s coronavirus test came back “negative,” thank God, all three of us priests, on doctors’ orders, remain in self-isolation for the sake of public health and the protection of one another given the exposure to the virus. Father Ben and I hope to come out of the tomb of isolation on Good Friday, while Father Tom has 14 more days from the day of his test.

In the meantime, I know that there is a small, but loud, portion of the wider ecclesial community that, in their zeal, question the protective measures that have been put in place. These passionate voices are frustrated that we priests are not having Mass, hearing confessions and anointing the sick.

One parishioner sent an email and asked, “Does the Church only provide ministries in good times and when times are bad, abandon those who are most in need?”

During these dangerous times, the Church continues to provide for her people with a vigilant prudence. The risks are high and lethal. This is only a temporary moment, albeit a very scary one. All of us priests continue each day to celebrate private Masses asking God’s graces upon his people. The Mass remains the greatest of prayers and the “source and summit” of all ministries. Above all, Jesus is present everywhere. His love cannot be contained. His mercy endures forever!

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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