COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Voices of the Crowd

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Father David BonnarHoly Week has finally arrived. Even though this year’s observance presents myriad challenges with churches closed and restrictions in place that preclude us from gathering together due to the pandemic, it is still the most solemn week of the year for Christians. Holy Week is a blessed time to identify with the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

When I think of Holy Week the first thing that comes to mind is the passion of Jesus. During these sacred days, we hear two different versions of Jesus’ suffering and death. On Palm Sunday we heard the Passion from Matthew’s Gospel while, on Good Friday, we will hear from John’s Gospel. As a child what I remember most about these accounts was that we stood while hearing them. It seemed like an eternity. Standing that whole time was a way for me to enter into the suffering of Jesus. Little did I know that what seemed like forever was just a brief moment.

Since I became a priest 31 years ago, I often find that every year when the Passion narratives are told, I seem to focus on the crowd. This year it appears even more poignant to me. As you know, there is, in the actual reading of the Passion, a voice for the crowd. The assembly typically speaks for the crowd.

While Jesus is to be the main focus of these days, yet I often find myself thinking about the crowd. These are the people who in John’s Gospel said, “Take him away. Take him away. Crucify him.” They declare, “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn 19:15).

The voices in a crowd can be really powerful, for better or worse. Anyone who has been to a sporting event knows how influential the voices of the crowd can be. In this case, it is easy to say, “Crucify him,” when everyone else is saying it. How hard it is to step away from the crowd and speak for ourselves.

The other day I received a text from a colleague who was checking in on me during my eighth day of quarantine. She said, “There is a gift somewhere in all of this.” I simply responded, “That is what faith does. It helps us to unwrap our sufferings and behold the blessings.” Yes, faith always looks for the gifts, even when they cannot always be seen by the human eye.

One of the gifts of this time, for all of us, is that we are being asked to step away from the crowd. Whether we find ourselves in self-isolation, implementing social distancing or holding onto baseball tickets that we cannot use at this time, we are being challenged to confront ourselves and be more aware of our own voice. That voice need not be harsh, mean, cynical or negative. If anything, we need positive and hope-filled voices. All it takes is just one voice to begin making a difference.

There is also another voice for us to be mindful of at this time — namely, the voice of God, who desperately wants to speak to our hearts. If we are really going to be able to hear his voice, we need to embrace silence and listen. Perhaps it is a blessing that, at least for the time being, we are not part of the crowd, so that we can heed his voice. But not all crowds are bad. I sure will miss hearing the voice of the crowds in our churches this Holy Week.

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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