Ah, the images from a pandemic. Some have been deeply depressing, others quite funny, all a bit strange. Love and strangeness in the time of coronavirus I suppose. There was the image of my sister-in-law getting into a large inflatable bear costume for a shared friend’s 40th birthday drive by. There was the time I noticed a group of masked teenagers on bikes stop to observe a group of deer peacefully grazing in front of the statue of Our Lady on the lawn of the Franciscan Sisters, they seemed transfixed and hardly a phone in site. There have been empty store shelves, margaritas to go and let’s not forget all that zooming. The powerful and even surreal scenes are many and varied.
The seemingly endless line of people, many families holding babies, and seniors lining up across Vincent Lombardi’s formal football field snaking their way from Tenafly Road to the Office of Concern in one of America’s richest counties has been the one that’s been the most meaningful to me, made more meaningful to see a small group of volunteers, many OLMC parishioners there to answer the call and to help. Watching volunteers, some almost twice my age, doing backbreaking work in humid heat for others left me awestruck. The food bank has seen more clients in a day than they see in weeks—560 on Tuesday alone!
In ministry, in our Christian life, we depend on conversion, not only the initial spiritual conversion that awoke us to our faith, which hopefully happened in our formative years, but the re-conversion needed to shatter our complacency day in and day out. I’ve been struggling in ways that I may not have even noticed since the phrase “day in and day out” has taken on a renewed sense in these times. Simply put, the scenes from the Office of Concern broke my heart. Driving home from the office later that evening—it was a beautiful evening—I began to cry. It was after a twelve hour day, and early summer has always been an emotional time, so give me a break but the feeling wasn’t just sadness!
I’ve been in Catholic ministry, in some form or another, for twenty years, from running retreats in my late teens, to working professionally at Our Lady of Mount Carmel for thirteen years. Last evening’s drive shattered my complacency and I felt the same feeling I felt all those years ago when I gave my heart so entirely to the mystery of God. That sounds pretty epic but it’s the same feeling parents must feel or you’ve felt in your life. It is the feeling I felt when I married Kathy, and saw all of you these past months serving our community in so many different ways! (Just check out the photos below.) The completely wonder-filled and debilitating feeling that I am so deeply unworthy and amazingly privileged to know all of you. I’ve done nothing to deserve your generosity (remember, you pay my rent) and the awesome grace and pride that swells within me from thinking that God has allowed me to have this responsibility is a near-indescribable feeling.
You have all given me a great life and I’m so grateful for it.
The mixture of gratitude and humility has allowed me to recommit to God, OLMC and our brothers and sisters more than ever. How lucky we are to be Christ’s hands and feet in this historical time. How grace-filled to be able to feel a love so encompassing! It’s made me see the obvious, what was right in front of me the whole time! Make no mistake about it, you are an essential worker! We may not be asked to balance life and death, of course most of our days don’t involve body counts, thankfully, but for every small victory you are essential! You are being blessed in countless ways. OLMC, I am so excited to tell you, God sees you and thanks you! Every time you buy an extra can of soup and drop it by the OLMC elevator, every time you don’t snap at the spouse (though they deserve it), every time you choose to go for a walk, every time you give your kid a break, every time you say “yes,” “thank you,” and “sorry” is a victory and God sees you and says thank you! All these are scenes from a pandemic too.
I find it pretty perfect that this upcoming Sunday we celebrate the Church’s birthday, Pentecost, that normal day when the personal experiences and love the early Christians felt exploded into public service. Scholars tell us whatever happened in that upper room must’ve been a heck of a thing, but I bet it wasn’t. I bet it was the simple realization that they are okay, that they are loved, forgiven, and fine. That’s enough for most of us to go out and serve. I know it because I’ve seen you all do it. Let’s do it again. Let this Sunday’s message reconvert us. Imagine if after all this, we can say Thank you God for taking us where we did not want to or expect to go, and recommit ourselves to service.
The scenes continue. Online graduations. The lawn signs supporting first responders. A pudgy, teary guy driving past Knickerbocker golf course and, outside the window, falling light.
Let’s get into it! To volunteer at the Office of Concern or other sites, sign up for prayer requests, donate food or make a monetary donation please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll be seeing you,
Here are some more scenes from a pandemic: