Andrew Santos (7/24/20)
“Yet even now, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.” Joel 2:12
As of 4 weeks ago, Western New York reached the final phase of lifting many of the restrictions placed on us in response to COVID-19. Although these restrictions seemed an unnecessary inconvenience to our daily routine, they were ultimately in effect for our own protection. As we adjust to a new normal, it is hard not to think about how so many aspects of our lives, such as going to work and dining out, have been changed by the pandemic.
A thought that I’m sure many of us have on our minds is what the future of the Church will look like. As many other parishes have done, my parish in Rochester, New York has taken safety measures such as enforcing social distancing during Mass, requiring face coverings in the church, and eliminating the sign of peace.
With all of these steps taken to protect churchgoers, it is discouraging to find that attendance has plummeted. Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, my family and I were fortunate enough to be a part of a vibrant church community where, at most Masses, there would be standing room only. Now it is a much different story. My wife and I knew that there would be fewer people attending since we would have to be spaced out. However, we have noticed that only 20-30 people have been at each Mass, where our church could easily accommodate 200 parishioners safely. I would like to say that this is not unique to our parish alone, but it seems that this is all too common. Whether for reasons of safety or convenience, it seems that although we have the opportunity to return to Mass, it is not on the list of priorities for families.
The current situation that, we as Catholics find ourselves in, reminds me of a story that my wife told me about her first Coldplay concert. About 10 years ago, she really enjoyed listening to Coldplay and found that they would be performing in Buffalo, only an hour away. She and her sister bought cheap tickets to the show and were placed in what seemed to be the furthest corner from the stage. My wife said she could barely make out the band members’ faces since they were so far away. Towards the end of the show, Coldplay decided to play one of their most well known songs, “Fix You.” About halfway through the song, the band disappeared from the stage. Then, out of nowhere, Coldplay appeared a mere 15 feet away from my wife on a platform that had been hidden from view. They decided to perform right among people who couldn’t afford to be closer to them throughout the show. The response of those people in the back of the concert venue, including my wife, was to rush to get as close to Coldplay as possible.
Because of the coronavirus, we were restricted from going to Mass and celebrating the Eucharist. Those restrictions have now been lifted. We can be in community once more to worship and receive God in the flesh. What are we waiting for?
It may feel unfavorable to follow the new guidelines to attend Mass at your local parish. However, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. If there is ever a time for us to welcome God back into our lives, it is now.
For those who are discouraged by the lack of attendance at your parish Masses, find hope in the fact that you are part of a larger community of people who, in spite of previous restrictions, refuse to allow anything to separate them from the Blessed Sacrament any longer. Nothing is more important than receiving Christ in the Eucharist, where He gives His entire self to be united to us so that we can become one with Him.
We have this ability once again, where God, like Coldplay at that concert, desires to be close to those who have been separated, watching only from afar. What are you going to do with this opportunity? Will you stay in your seat? Or will you run to get as close to Him as you can?
We must run to receive Him. We must return to Mass. There is no other option.
Andrew Santos lives in Rochester, NY with his wife Emily and their two sons, Dominic (28 months) and Damian (9 months). He has bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Theology from St. John’s University. He enjoys camping, hiking, reading Tolkien, and wrestling his sons.
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