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Forging Connection: “Be of Good Cheer, I have Overcome the World”

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by Mark Danis

There is a lexicon evolving in our nation’s response to COVID-19 that the Church must reject. Terms like quarantine, isolation and social distancing can lead us to retreat, withdrawal and avoidance. But Christ’s words demand a proactive response to our current situation. We must take this time to explore and adopt new ways of reconnecting with one another in Christ.

God has provided us the means of overcoming the limitations imposed by the pandemic, and these go beyond merely livestreaming Masses or providing online catechetical formation. According to Joshua Danis, national director for Alpha in a Catholic Context (ACC), “The challenge with some of the Church’s online response to the pandemic is that it is one directional. What is needed,” he contends, are: “many to many relationships. Families need to interact with families, friends need to reconnect with friends and neighbors need to rediscover neighbors – in a Christian context. The focus must not be primarily on content, but on community.”

Jeanne Paula is a member of Dayton’s Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. She has not attended their monthly meeting for more than a year, as she cares for her 94-year-old mother. But in her Community’s response to COVID-19, Paula recently reconnected, interacted and even prayed with her Carmelite family in a virtual forum.

“I have been deprived of my Community. We communicate through email, telephone and letters, but this online gathering allowed us to be in each other’s presence and feel comfortable sharing our struggles and victories – we were able to encourage each other,” said Paula.

Faith communities across the archdiocese are feeling the impact of pandemic-imposed isolation, but they are also discovering new, innovative ways to gather. According to Sean Ater, archdiocesan director of evangelization, “Technology is just a tool, but the COVID crisis has shown us how technology can help build on relationships in communities that have already been established.”

Online forums were something the Carmelites had not done before. But in response to restrictions on large gatherings, virtual interaction offered a new opportunity for all Community members to come together again.

In similar fashion, the current class of archdiocesan permanent deacon candidates refused to allow the virus to dictate their spring semester. The in-person classes ended in early March
with the closure of Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology, but according to candidate Joe Grote, “This group of 18 men are more than just classmates, we are brothers.”

While still in their first year of formation, these men have already overcome significant challenges. Aside from the pandemic, members of the class have endured unemployment, medical challenges and even a life-threatening condition for one candidate’s newborn grandchild.

In each case, the men closed ranks and responded with prayer, including around-the-clock rosaries. When Grote recently convened an online gathering, the men began as they always do: They prayed together. Afterwards, they shared stories of family, work and preparation for final exams. They even witnessed one member kissing his daughter good night, something they could not have shared in their evenings together at the seminary.

We as a Church should never allow the world to separate us as a community. We are here to be Christ to one another. When exterior circumstances impose themselves on us, we cannot cower or shelter in isolation. Instead, we should exploit every means at our disposal to embrace Jesus’ message of victory. As St. Paul himself taught, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

This article appeared in the June edition of The Catholic Telegraph. To receive a complimentary subscription at home, click here 

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