As the months of summer wear on, there are many questions that all of us are continuing to ask about how, when, where and what our coming months will be like, particularly as we move toward the fall formation term. We have many wise minds who are working on the best practices for our fall semester. All of us are wondering what life will be like.
We have spent and are spending a great deal of time and energy on developing the rules for re-convention. What will the practicalities be? We want to know how far apart we need to sit. We want to know if it will be safe to eat the food. Can we have classes together or must we stay online? Can we go out? Must we stay in?
All important questions, and yet, perhaps they are the second tier of reflection. I do believe that we have to ask some very essential questions as we move forward. Our goal here is to have in place a definite plan by the first of August. In the meantime, as we mull over the practicalities, I would like to offer a series of theological reflections. Here are some of the thoughts that I have been having lately.
First, I have been thinking about our holy patron. We all (I hope) know the story of Saint Meinrad. St. Meinrad was a monk and he was a hermit. He planned very carefully to be a hermit, to live alone in the desert of the Swiss forest. The key event of his life, however, contradicted his plan. Two thieves appeared and St. Meinrad did not turn them away, even though he knew that they would kill him.
He did not disdain the values of the Gospel in order to protect himself. What does this say about our lives as Christian men and women? First, it indicates that there is a value from the Christian standpoint that we must always uphold. It is the value of hospitality. Hospitality is not recklessness, but it may be, in the end, a kind of resignation. We must take care of ourselves, but we must also take care of others, both in our orbit and in the world.
A second value for St. Meinrad was the importance of forming practical values on Gospel values. I was thinking recently about Christmas trees. We can have the most beautiful ornaments in the world (practical plans), but if we have no tree (Gospel framework) to hang them on, they are merely glass and tinsel. The tree gives life to the ornaments. The Gospel values give life to the practical plans.
We might also look at the life of St. Maximillian Kolbe. St. Maximillian found himself in desperate circumstances in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Yet, he did not hesitate to intentionally exacerbate those circumstances by taking on the burdens of another, indeed, dying for another. Only the Gospel could inform a decision like that.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples this important question: Can you drink of the cup that I am to drink? The disciples did not hesitate to say yes and Jesus told them that they would drink the cup he was to drink. Jesus was clear with the disciples: Risks may need to be taken. I do not believe these risks have to be mere folly. But risks must be taken and survival at all costs may be a soteriological risk in itself.
Here is what I know: I know that this health crisis is serious. I do not believe it is a hoax or a political scam. I also believe that we need to take every precaution we can to ensure the well-being of all. I also believe it is essential for us to meditate and pray very earnestly on how we, as messengers of the Gospel and ambassadors of Christ, must respond to human suffering.
We cannot endanger any life, but we may also need to seek and discover creative ways to reach out. Here is the theological tension. We must be careful, but we must be bold. We must be safe, but we must be risk takers for the Gospel.
We do not know and we cannot know exactly what the scenario will be for our re-opening. We do not know the level of contagion in our dioceses or in our local area. We must plan and we must do so practically, but in the coming weeks as we internally look at various scenarios, I also want to reflect on the Gospel values we must continually uphold if we are to be worthy of the name of priest, deacon, seminarian, lay minister, or devoted Christian servant.
Let us then turn without hesitation and without apology to the greatest resource we have, prayer to our Almighty God who alone can ultimately resolve the crisis in which we find ourselves. As always, I am here for you in any way I can be. We are all working together to find the best answers to these critical questions in Christ.