Dear Parishioners of Good Shepherd
This is a somewhat lengthy email, so I thank you in advance for your time and attention.
Like many of you, I have been monitoring the developments of the COVID-19 challenge. It is a very fluid situation that requires flexibility, anticipation, and a level head. We don’t want to overreact, but we also don’t want to underreact. What the appropriate response should be will vary from location, persons, and recent events. As such, we should be very slow to judge another person’s heart in how he or she responds to the coronavirus. At the same time, what motivates our responses should not be fear, but love: love for our neighbor, which prepares us to do challenging things.
As of the writing of this email (March 14th) there is only one known case of the coronavirus in St. Louis, and a second ‘emerging’ case. Both are thought to have been brought to the area due to travel (international and domestic, respectively).
There are no known cases in Jefferson County.
While St. Louis City and County have each implemented suggested restrictions on large gatherings, Jefferson County Health Department has not. Per a memo on the JCHD blog, they are not currently recommending any limitations on mass gatherings or school closures since there are no known cases of COVID-19 in the county.
The Archbishop of St. Louis, in recognizing that the appropriate response will vary from parish to parish and person to person, has issued a number of memos as new challenges emerge. The most recent memo was issued late in the evening on Friday, March 13th. (All memos can be found at https://www.archstl.org/coronavirus ). The most relevant points to us at Good Shepherd are this:
- The public Mass schedule at Good Shepherd will remain unchanged (for the time being)
- All Catholics within the Archdiocese of St. Louis are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for the weekends of March 14-15, March 21-22, and March 28-29. Masses will continue to be offered, however.
- Anyone who is vulnerable due to sickness, age, or medical condition is encouraged to remain home.
- We are encouraged to consider if we should delay weddings, funerals and baptisms; or at the very least, limit attendance and travel.
- The Sacrament of Reconciliation is recommended to be celebrated from ‘behind the screen’, to ensure the health department’s social distancing guidelines.
- PSR and Daytime school: we’re currently on spring break, but will be monitoring the guidance of the County and Archdiocese in days to come.
- Fish Fries and other social gatherings are encouraged to consider offering only pick-up or drive-through options. (For now, Good Shepherd will remain full service, though we may have to change course before this coming Friday).
- Collections: even if you are unable to attend Mass, please know that we have many expenses and depend upon your contributions, and ask you to contribute online or to mail in your contribution.
To speak briefly to the last point: our annual budget, by design, is barely in the black, and our cash reserves are very small (about one month’s worth of operating expenses). We do not want to have to cut back on services or staffing due to decreased collections.
In my own prayer, the Lord seems to be saying “Love life, but love eternal life more.” What does he mean?
By ‘love life’, we should respect the gift of this life by caring for it in all of its aspects – physical, spiritual, mental, emotional – as well as caring for others likewise. In the matters of physical health, the Church always seeks to learn from and listen to experts in the medical field. Hence the reason for our cooperation in the public response to our current health challenges.
By ‘love eternal life more’, the Lord is saying that no matter what the challenges are to ourselves, our families, our community, our nation… that we should not be afraid. As St. Paul wrote: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can pull us out of God’s hands, not even death… only we, by our own choices, can step away from Him.
In times like this, we should very intentionally step closer towards Jesus. Here are some suggestions how:
- If you elect to not attend Sunday Mass, we should still keep Sunday as the Lord’s day.
- Participate in a Sunday Mass online or on TV through catholictv.org, EWTN, or the Catholic Faith Network.
- Gather together as a household to read aloud, pray with, and discuss the Sunday (and daily) readings. They can be found on usccb.org. Locate the calendar on the right and select the appropriate date.
- Make a Spiritual Communion (see prayer below), which can be done any time, not just on Sunday’s.
- Consider attending a weekday Mass, which has lower attendance and can help with keeping appropriate physical distance.
- Pray daily the prayer Pope Francis has given to the world to combat the coronavirus. It is at the bottom of this email.
- Pray with the Scriptures and the Rosary daily.
- Spend some extra time at church during ‘off hours’… the doors are never locked!
Friends, I don’t know about you, but I am not worried. There is a need to keep vigilance and to be proactive, and I’m motivated to accept challenging responsibilities, but I’m not worried.
The season of Lent draws us to meditate on how our Heavenly Father is active at all times, especially in the wildernesses and crosses of our lives. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus remain the definitive proof that even in times of greatest evil, God is still working an even greater good! May we receive the grace of faith and hope in this truth that we rely ever more on the love of God.
Know of my prayers for you, and I ask yours in return. And please do not hesitate to reach out to me for any questions or concerns.
Sincerely in Christ,
Prayer of Pope Francis to Mary for protection and guidance:
you always shine on our path
as a sign of salvation and of hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick,
who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.
You, Salvation of the Roman People,
know what we need,
and we are sure you will provide
so that, as in Cana of Galilee,
we may return to joy and to feasting
after this time of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform to the will of the Father
and to do as we are told by Jesus,
who has taken upon himself our sufferings
and carried our sorrows
to lead us, through the cross,
to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Prayer for Spiritual Communion by St. Alphonsus Liguori
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.