Serving the Suffering Church: Helping Others See the Works of God
“It is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (Jn 9:3).
As deacon couples, parishioners are looking to us for prayers, advice, answers and direction during one of, no doubt, the most unusual Lenten seasons we’ve ever experienced. In addition to a growing list of dioceses canceling public Masses, weddings and funerals are being postponed, Catholic schools have been shut down, and some dioceses have already made the decision to cancel public Masses and services during Holy Week. In addition to our spiritual experiences being changed dramatically, restaurants and malls have their doors closed, along with theaters, nightclubs and fitness centers. Quite frankly, life, as we know it, has disappeared.
And although none of us knows what our daily lives will look like once this health crisis with the novel coronavirus is finally over, many of us, as leaders in our parishes, are regularly receiving the questions and hearing the concerns of Catholics who want to know where in the world is God in all this?
Some of the flock may accuse us of sounding cliché or somewhat insensitive by reminding them that God is always with us, even though it is certainly true. They want to know how that plays out exactly: What does God’s presence look like in the every day as everyone is dealing with a long list of sudden and very challenging circumstances. But the good news is — that is, the Good News as in Jesus is truly revealing himself very specifically and in more ways than one. We just must keep our eyes, ears and hearts open to these God-moments and then joyfully turn right around and share them.
We can start by pointing them to Scripture. It’s always important to remind Catholics that regardless of whether we can physically go to Mass, we can be in union with God and the universal Church by just following the Mass readings. In particular, the Gospel reading for Sunday, March 22, couldn’t be timelier. We know that there are no coincidences, and this Gospel was a clear reminder that God is right there with us in the coronavirus trenches. In Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel, we read about Jesus healing the man who was born blind. Upon seeing the blind man, the disciples asked Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents. And given the attitude of that time, they were no doubt surprised by the Lord’s response.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (Jn 9:3).
So how else are the works of God being displayed right now? Well, my favorite saint, St. Teresa of Avila, reminds us that we are God’s hands and feet.
“Christ has no body but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks into the world.
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.
God has no hands or feet or voice except ours and through these he works.”
And across the country and around the globe, we are witnessing plenty of hands and feet keeping busy by helping others, or by simply doing what they can to bring some badly needed sunshine into our world during this very dark time.
For starters, I had a personal experience that made a difference during a very difficult week. My 93-year-old mother, who passed away on March 19, was in hospice care for several days at her assisted living facility. By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, she had been given less than 72 hours to live. There I was, sitting in her apartment, preparing to say goodbye. The entire facility was on lockdown, and visits were severely restricted to only emergency cases.
A place that is normally buzzing with activity, such as daily bingo games, prayer groups, exercise classes and a busy dining hall, had turned into a virtual ghost town. The staff did their best to keep the facility attractive with festive decorations and music piped throughout the buildings, but the drastic changes were everywhere.
Then, suddenly, I heard a knock on the door. It was a volunteer telling me to go to the window as they had a surprise. A woman in the neighborhood was worried about the residents feeling isolated, alone and unable to take part in any holiday parties. So, she dressed up her two very large dogs in bright green garb and walked from window to window showing off the St. Patty’s pups. Considering there are dozens of residents in the complex, it must have taken her several hours to make the rounds. Another one of God’s works on display. I shared this on my radio program as well as with family and friends.
In metro Detroit, a local priest at St. Thomas Chaldean filled the church parking lot at night by offering a “drive by” Eucharistic adoration. The monstrance was placed in the front window of the church. The priest also walked among the cars holding a sign that read, “flash the lights if you need a confession and I’ll come over.”
Two of my other favorite stories come from Italy, which has been absolutely devastated by this virus. And yet the Italians are doing what they can, in what is still a very Catholic nation, to show their countrymen and the world that they care.
Earlier this month Italian opera singer Maurizio Marchini serenaded the city of Florence from his balcony. And not just one impromptu concert, but several.
A few hours away in Milan, the epicenter of the virus, a priest wanted his sheep to know how much they are loved and prayed for, even though, for the time being, they are unable to step inside the doors of the parish. He asked them to send pictures. He then printed those pictures up and pasted them on the pews so he could see their lovely faces while he celebrated Mass privately.
Another beautiful example of God’s work being revealed came from a 7-year-old boy in Maryland. Cavanaugh Bell started his own online campaign to help those impacted by the virus. In addition to the dollars raised, he also donated $500 of his own to the cause. Think about all the things a little boy might want to do with his birthday money. He could have easily purchased a new bike, video games, a new computer or all the above. Instead, he headed to the store and did the shopping for someone other than himself, purchasing all kinds of items in order to put together some 65 care packages for those in need. He took them to a senior community in his neighborhood. That story made it to my Facebook page and my other social media outlets almost immediately. I’ve shared them with my husband and pastor, as well, so they can do the same thing within our congregation.
So, look around and you’ll probably see, as we read in Sunday’s Gospel, the works of God displayed. There are probably already a number of acts of kindness taking place right in your own backyard. Given that we’re utilizing technology by offering livestreaming of the Mass, online retreats, faith-based webinars and more to make up for our churches being closed and public conferences and other events canceled, why not use the same technology to spread some cheer with uplifting real-life stories?
And let’s not forget that these examples certainly make for great homiletic material. And at the end of the day, there are always the good old-fashioned ways of communicating Christ’s love, such as a phone call, or a face-to-face conversation keeping in mind safe distancing, of course.
However you go about spreading the Good News, sharing how God is at work through his people can encourage those struggling, those who are, right now, filled with doubt and fear, reminding them that they’re not alone. Perhaps it might even inspire them to put their own hardship aside, and to go and do likewise.
“God has no hands or feet or voice except ours and through these, he works.”
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).