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Searching for Contentment

Post-COVID-19 fallout includes gripes, complaints, less cooperation

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Father Carrion“Father, the livestream was crackly this past Sunday. It was not easy hearing the music or your homily. I turned the TV off and tried again thinking it was my TV in the kitchen, but it was still the same.” This comment occurred when the parishioner drove to the office one day to get a Mass card.

I said, “Well, technology is great when it works and frustrating when it does not.” The silent word bubble over my head wanted to say, “Next Sunday, turn the TV off and turn the car on and drive to church since you can drive midweek to get a Mass card.”

Ministry has taken a challenging turn in the last two years. I may be an anomaly, but the 2020 COVID-19 year was one of the most affirming years of priesthood. Sure, there were technology hurdles and COVID shots to take, which were small inconveniences but manageable in comparison to the larger picture. Churches that had the means and the brainpower smoothly beefed up their technology. For others, it took much learning on how to do what many had never done before. The early days of ministry in the height of the COVID pandemic were affirming. Everybody — rich or poor, young or old, priest or parishioners — was in this together, so there was an esprit de corps as all pulled together.

The simplest of ministerial outreach was embraced and welcomed. Whatever the parish did was accepted as more than expected, given the circumstances. Now, two years later, it is a 180-degree turn — whatever the parish does is not enough.

In the early days of COVID, when no public Masses were celebrated in the church, it was nice just to hang out in the church with doors open and greet people who came by for a visit. Each person was grateful the church was open, to have some private prayer, and possibly to bump into a fellow parishioner — albeit, six feet away. Even the staticky, poor-quality picture via Zoom of a livestreamed Mass with a laptop on a tall table facing the altar was well received. Ministry was simpler. If the parish offered Stations of the Cross via Zoom, people came more to see their friends through the lens than the Stations. Even when Mass was allowed with tight restrictions, limited numbers, social distancing and, sometimes, making reservations to attend, people were thrilled. While we could not have any social gatherings in the parish hall after Mass, there were other ways. A doughnut truck (making fresh hot doughnuts) might have been parked in the lot on Sunday morning and all tailgated with coffee and doughnuts, or after Saturday vigil Mass, an ice cream truck might arrive (eat dessert first, life is short). Church was fun; church was an adventure.

Many priests in 2020, though, yearned for the day to get back to normal. But I loved this new way of being Church — people’s attitude, the adventure, the community spirit. mMaybe this would be the new normal. Sadly, it did not last.

As restrictions lightened up, people did not. There seemed to be more anxiousness, more demands, more anger. The flu did much more damage than just physical challenges to people’s health and general well-being. Even when more social things happened, people would complain that fresh waffles were different from the doughnut truck. One person voiced, “Waffles do not count.” It is basically the same batter but a different shape. Why is this upsetting you? Why? How?

The parish does not do anything “like we used to.” The phrase “like we used to” became the mantra for 2022-23. People demonstrated more anger. Maybe pre-COVID, they kept it in check, but now there is no filter.

Now the new normal of livestreaming complaints about the sound and picture is some of the fallout of all the good-naturedness of pulling together to attend Mass through Zoom when that was the only option. There is no vaccine or booster shot for these situations, but maybe time will bring a new balance of what was and what is, and with that, some contentment.

FATHER PATRICK CARRION is the director of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Office of Cemeteries and the pastor of five-parish cluster in Baltimore, Maryland.

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