Be an angel carrying God’s message to grandparents, the elderly

Sunday, July 26, is the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. It was established by Pope Francis, who is 84, to remind the elderly in our families, our parishes and our communities that the Church is always with them. 

“The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!” he wrote in his message for the day. 

Caring for and respecting the elderly, as well as highlighting their importance and gifts, have been recurring themes throughout Pope Francis’ papacy. All too often, the elderly can be forgotten and marginalized, but the pope reminds us that the faithful are called to reach out to the seniors in their lives along with all members of the human family. 

That may never have been more important than during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the elderly were the most susceptible to the coronavirus and most at risk of becoming seriously ill and of dying. Although it was for their protection, so many found themselves alone and isolated from their loved ones. Families were forced to communicate through panes of glass and over the internet. 

“The Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time,” the pope said. “He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic.” 

The Lord sends angels to console people in their loneliness and to remind them God is always with us, the pope said.  

We are those angels. It is up to us to carry God’s message to our grandparents and the elderly that the Lord is with us always. Let us make the effort and take the time to see those hidden in the shadows, to reach out to our grandparents, to show them the same love that they have showered upon us during our lives.  

The family is often called the domestic church. It is where we learn the faith and we learn that living our faith can send ripples of grace and love through the lives of all whom we encounter. As we send out those ripples, don’t forget to direct them to our grandparents and all the elderly. 

Editorial: The fight to preserve and protect life from birth to natural death continues with several recent developments.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters

The fight to preserve and protect life from birth to natural death continues with several recent developments.

First, the acting head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the agency will not enforce a requirement that the abortion drug mifepristone, sold as Mifeprex and also known as RU-486, must be prescribed after an in-person meeting between a woman and a health care professional. As long as the federal declaration of a public health emergency for COVID-19 remains in place, women will be able to purchase the drug online.

As pro-life advocates have noted, that might be good for the abortion industry but is dangerous for women. “An in-person visit is medically necessary and sound medical practice because it ensures that every woman receives a full evaluation for any contraindications to a medication abortion,” Dr. Christina Francis, chair of the American Association of Pro-Life OB/GYNs, said in a statement after the FDA’s decision was announced. 

Women have died from complications after taking the abortion drug even with an in-person visit. The likelihood is that more deaths, including those of the unborn, will follow the FDA’s decision.

It is not unreasonable or an assault on women’s rights to require that every step to protect their health be followed. To do otherwise is an assault on human life and as such does a disservice to the country as a whole and to women in particular.

On another front, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear arguments on the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Many pro-life advocates are hopeful the Supreme Court will use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion on demand.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, noting that 70 percent of Americans believe abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy, said in a statement, “States should be allowed to craft laws that are in line with both public opinion on this issue as well as basic human compassion, instead of the extreme policy that Roe imposed.”

When Mississippi first passed the law, the state’s Catholic bishops applauded the decision. “(We) wish to reaffirm the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death,” they said in a statement at the time. “With Pope St. John Paul II, we recognize abortion as ‘a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders.’”

In 2020, the Jackson and Biloxi dioceses filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s petition to the Supreme Court asking it to review the 5th Circuit’s ruling prohibiting the state from enforcing the law. The high court should clarify current law on abortion “in light of a state’s interests in protecting the sanctity of life,” the dioceses’ brief said.

The Catholic Church has long opposed abortion as an attack on the dignity of human life, an attack that degrades the value our society places on not only the lives of those still developing in their mother’s womb, but all lives no matter their condition or station. God instills an inherent value in the life of every person, the poor, the ill, the elderly, the vulnerable, the marginalized, even the repugnant.

And the Church recognizes that in defending the life of the unborn, we cannot abandon the mother. That is why, through agencies like Catholic Charities and other ministries, we try to help women in the midst of a crisis pregnancy find the support they need that will allow them to affirm the value of their life and the life of their child.

Society does not have to settle for an either/or choice between serving the mother or the child. In fact, that kind of thinking is the exact wrong approach to the challenges facing our nation. We must accompany mother AND child.

In a recent letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president concerning a proposal for the U.S. bishops to develop a national policy regarding giving the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warned that it would be “misleading” to present abortion and euthanasia as “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

The Church and her teachings have much to offer the faithful and the broader society as it decerns the morality of a whole host of issues. The thread that weaves through them all is the sanctity of life that comes from God, our creator.

We pray that humanity will recognize all life as a gift from God and treat it with the reverence it deserves.

Editorial: Bill represents a welcome step toward abolition of death penalty

Tennessee, one of the most conservative states in the union, has taken a small step away from the death penalty and toward the position espoused by the Catholic Church that the life of every human being, no matter their status or deeds, has value.

Both the State House of Representatives and Senate have passed a bill that bans the death penalty for people with severe intellectual disabilities. It allows defendants convicted of first-degree murder to petition the court to examine the defendant’s intellectual competency if the issue has not yet been decided by the court. The bill also allows people sentenced to death row before the law takes effect, to petition the court to examine their intellectual competency.

As the Tennessee Register goes to press, the bill is awaiting the signature of Gov. Bill Lee, who has expressed his support for the measure and is expected to sign it into law.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, told reporters the bill follows guidance handed down by the Tennessee Supreme Court in a 2016 case. At that time, the justices recommended the Legislature consider changing state law to allow courts to determine an inmate’s intellectual competency.

The bill passed with wide bipartisan support. In the House, the vote was 89-4 in favor with one legislator present but not voting. In the Senate, the bill passed 28-1. Those kinds of numbers approach what one might see for a resolution saluting motherhood and apple pie.

In these times of hyper-partisanship, the Tennessee General Assembly found common ground in opposing the death penalty for people with severe intellectual disabilities. Even ardent supporters of the death penalty voted for this change in the law.

It appears nearly everyone saw the wisdom of this piece of legislation. Certainly, the three Catholic bishops of Tennessee, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis, welcomed the vote. Before the vote, they sent a letter to the sponsors, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. David Hawk, a Greeneville Republican, supporting the measure, which they described as “Pro-Life legislation.”

The last three popes – St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – have all spoken and written passionately in opposition to the death penalty. In 2018, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Pope Francis reiterated that position in his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”: “There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

The bishops’ letter in support of the bill echoed the reasoning of Pope Francis and his predecessors. The bishops noted the many people who have been released from death row after new evidence has proved their innocence. “Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person,” they wrote.

“It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil law,” the bishops added. “Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society.”

The Church’s opposition to the death penalty is a piece of its teaching on the respect for life and the hope for repentance and redemption, even for those who have committed heinous acts against another. Her opposition to the death penalty does not lessen her concern or care for the victims of crime. She offers continual prayers that the victims will find peace beyond their pain.

We recognize that this bill, rather than being the end of the journey toward the abolition of the death penalty, does represent some progress. And for that, we thank Gov. Lee, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. Hawk, as well as all the other legislators who voted for the measure, for their support and leadership in seeing this bill to passage.

We pray that our state eventually will recognize the truth of the Church teaching on the value of every human life, from conception to natural death, and complete the journey that will take us to a society that rejects state-sponsored killing.

Editorial: Make all things new as we begin to emerge from pandemic

The growing number of people who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus brings comfort that the pandemic might be beginning to ease. With this burgeoning confidence, the faithful of the Diocese of Nashville are beginning to return to their churches to gather in person once again as a community of faith. Photo by Andy Telli

In Easter, we Catholics believe in new life and light emerging from darkness.

With his resurrection, Christ conquered death, not only for himself but also for all those who believe in him and his resurrection.

Just as the first signs of spring bring the comfort that Easter is at hand, so too does the growing number of people who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus bring us comfort that the pandemic might be beginning to ease. With this burgeoning confidence, the faithful of the Diocese of Nashville are beginning to return to their churches to gather in person once again as a community of faith.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding, in time for Palm Sunday, ended the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, while also noting that Church law envisions situations where the obligation does not apply because of a grave concern. “Serious ongoing risks and concerns you might have about the coronavirus can certainly constitute that grave cause,” he added at the time.

The bishop’s decision gave many the confidence that it was safe to return in person to the public celebrations of Mass. The liturgies and events of Holy Week and Easter saw levels of attendance unseen in more than a year. Pastors across the diocese are happily anticipating that trend to continue, even as they maintain many of the protocols that have been in place to protect people from the spread of the coronavirus. They are also preparing for a post-pandemic world, where we can use the lessons learned in the last year to strengthen and broaden our communities.

Our churches are welcoming people back in the spirit of the Easter season, summed up in the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. … The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

This Easter season we have the opportunity to allow Christ to make our life new, our faith new. We have felt the disorientation of being separated from our communities of faith and from the Eucharist, the ultimate expression of our communion with each other and God. Now we can feel the joy of reconnecting with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we reconnect, we should heartily embrace the mission statement of the diocese: Living and Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, Welcoming All! We should embrace that mission in our attention at Mass, in recommitting to forming ourselves in the faith, to bringing the faith to bear in every part of our lives, in outreach to our brothers and sisters, especially those on the margins in pain or despair.

We are an Easter church, where all are given new life in Jesus Christ through his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. We must always be mindful of that gift and of our obligation to extend that gift to all we meet. In doing so, we will be the hands of God who makes all things new.

Editorial: With vaccines, nuance gets lost in the headlines

A Johnson & Johnson scientist works in a laboratory during the development and testing of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in this undated photo. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the company’s one-shot vaccine Feb. 27, 2021. CNS photo/Johnson & Johnson, Handout via Reuters.

The teachings and pronouncements of the Catholic Church are often nuanced, reflecting complicated questions of faith, morality and ethics that confront us in the modern world. And often the nuance is lost in the sound and the fury that surrounds so many of society’s most contentious issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents one of those complicated situations that requires a nuanced response.

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson was recently approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. News of the vaccine’s success in trials raised hopes that it might help bring an end to the suffering.

But the news also raised some difficult questions about the moral suitability of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement.

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Rhoades have been active on their respective committees for many years and speak often about the importance of pro-life issues.

More than 500,000 people in the United States have died because of the pandemic. Scientists and researchers have done tremendous work in a very short period of time to produce vaccines that hold great promise in slowing, even eliminating, the spread of the virus.

In most instances, people do not have a choice of which vaccine to receive. And health care providers, because of significant production and distribution issues, often do not have a choice about which vaccine they can offer to people.

The Church recognizes these complications.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,’” the bishops said. “However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”

The Church has long advocated that the pharmaceutical industry stop using abortion-derived cell lines in developing vaccines and other treatments and is not abandoning that position now. The lives lost to abortion should never be reduced to raw materials for a production process, and researchers should continue to work to find moral and ethical alternatives.

But the pandemic poses a unique threat to human life. “Given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good,” Bishops Rhodes and Naumann added.

Many overlook the nuanced position of the Church, and others focus only on the conflict. Lost is the goal of the Church’s position: to ease suffering and to serve the common good. It is certainly not an easy choice between two important goods that might seem to be in opposition to each other: If we have no other option than to accept the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, will we participate in the moral evil of abortion and its consequences?

The Church is reassuring Catholics that if no other options are available, receiving any of the vaccines serves the common good.

Editorial: Can you increase your almsgiving this Lent?

An usher uses a collection basket during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral in Newark, N.J. Giving alms, sharing what we have with those in need, is not just a good idea, something with spiritual benefits — it is our vocation. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

It might be hard to believe, but we are almost to the home stretch of Lent. It’s time to examine our consciences to see how well we are practicing the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

In his Lenten message this year, Pope Francis emphasized that our Lenten practices should not only promote individual conversion, but also should have an impact on others. An important way for this to happen is through our almsgiving.

Of the three Lenten practices, almsgiving might be the one many of us have the hardest time with. We find it relatively easier to, for example, add the saying of the Stations of the Cross to our regular prayer life, or give up alcohol or chocolate and abstain from meat on Fridays.

This year, in particular, is difficult because our lives are so controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, though, when it comes to personal finances, people have been affected differently.

On one hand, many people are struggling badly because they have been unable to work. This probably isn’t the year when they can, or should, be thinking about ways to increase their almsgiving. It’s time for them to accept help wherever they can find it.

On the other hand, many other people have seen their personal finances improve, mainly because they have been unable to spend money as they did before the pandemic. We have been staying at home. Travel is down, eating out is rarer, and theaters and sports arenas have been closed – until recently. People who have been able to work at home haven’t had commuting or outside-the-home meal expenses.

Then there are also those stimulus checks, or COVID-19 relief checks. They are vitally important for some people, but during previous rounds of stimulus we have heard of cases where recipients of the checks immediately sent the money to their favorite charities because they didn’t think they had done anything to deserve the money or that they needed it.

If you are able to increase your almsgiving, where should you start? We suggest looking at your local parish first. Its expenses continue during the pandemic, but contributions often do not. If you haven’t contributed to your parish while you were unable to attend Mass there, perhaps you could now make up for that.

Next, we believe, should be organizations that help those who are hurting so badly. The agencies and offices of Catholic Charities would be at the top of that list. Among people served are the poor, the hungry, the homeless, pregnant women, the elderly, neglected children, and anyone else in need. There is also the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which provides food, clothing and furniture to individuals and families in need as well as training to help them break the cycle of poverty.

In the Diocese of Nashville, don’t forget the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Ministries, which supports a wide range of activities that support parishes, people in need, and Catholics on their journey of faith.

At the international level, we suggest beginning with Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ official international humanitarian agency that serves the poor and suffering people in countries throughout the world, or private organizations such as Food for the Poor and Cross Catholic Outreach, which are accomplishing so much in the fight against poverty.

We suggest that our readers take the pope’s words to heart this Lent, prayerfully discover something they can give up, and contribute what they would have spent to a charity that serves the poor.

As Pope Francis has said on many occasions, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Through our almsgiving, may we use Lent to demonstrate our love for them.

This editorial first appeared in the March 12 issue of The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. It was written by John F. Fink, editor emeritus.W

Editorial – Communicating through encounter should be the goal of journalists

News media has always come in for a lot of criticism – sometimes rightly, sometimes not.

But that goes with the territory of an institution that seeks to be a messenger, especially since the message it delivers is not always well received nor is it always believed.

That’s why Pope Francis’ annual World Communications Day message released Jan. 23 resonates so strongly, coming as it does after a year of fast-moving head-spinning events in this country and around the world.

In the age of instant communications and fake news, Pope Francis said, journalists, along with everyone else, have to recover the practice of going out and verifying information before they share it.

“‘Come and see’ is the simplest method to get to know a situation,” the pope wrote, referencing the theme of his message, “‘Come and See’ – Communicating by Encountering People as They Are.”

That’s the most honest test of every message, he wrote, because in order to know, “we need to encounter, to let the person in front of me speak, to let his or her testimony reach me.”

We certainly agree with that.

We also know how difficult it can be in a time when many of us, perhaps most of us, exist in a news bubble in which we literally dial out the news we don’t like and view or listen only to that which confirms our own opinions and beliefs – whether based on facts or not.

As the pope notes, “We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism.”

And in this hyper-partisan age, it’s even more important for those of us in media to present an accurate and balanced flow of news, and to make clear that opinions are just that: opinions.

In the same way, it’s critical for the general public to filter out the real news from the fake, the facts from opinions, and that’s not always easy.

It would seem impossible, for instance, to “spin” the story of a world that’s deep into a crippling pandemic, but even as U.S. COVID-19 deaths push close to 450,000, there still are some who perpetrate the notion that the coronavirus is a hoax.

Speaking against those who report or share information that has not been verified and that has no basis in fact, Pope Francis said: “All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.”

We agree with the pope that all of us can benefit from the example of St. Paul, who, in Christianity’s earliest days, communicated its story to the world drawing upon his deep sense of “faith, hope and charity.”

To communicators of today, the pope prayed that God “grant us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in our world and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen.”

This unsigned editorial was first published online on the website of Catholic New York, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

EDITORIAL – Catholic Schools Week highlights our successes and contributions

Catholic schools will once again step into the spotlight from Jan. 31 through Feb. 6 as they celebrate Catholic Schools Week.

It is an annual celebration of Catholic schools, their students, their teachers and the people that support them in so many ways. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the impact Catholic schools have on their communities by educating and forming the citizens who will be leaders in their neighborhoods, at work, in their faith communities, and in untold other settings and ways.

Education has long been a central mission of the Church, opening a path to salvation. Christ himself was called teacher. And it was from the Church that sprouted the first universities.

The role of Catholic schools at every level remains vital to the Church’s work of evangelization. In its document “Gravissimum Educationis,” the Second Vatican Council said, “Holy Mother Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling. Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education.”

In its 2005 document “Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote: “Young people of the third millennium must be a source of energy and leadership in our Church and our nation. Therefore, we must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education and faith formation designed to strengthen their union with Christ and his Church. … By equipping our young people with a sound education, rooted in the Gospel message, the Person of Jesus Christ, and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith, we ensure that they have the foundation to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world.”

The Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville are meeting this mission, offering academic excellence and a spiritual formation that provides a firm foundation in the faith. Our Catholic schools also are educating our children to be people of service to others.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, Catholic schools have overcome many challenges to provide an education that best serves the students and their families. It is a tribute to the professionalism, skill, adaptability and determination of our teachers and administrators.

Catholic schools still face challenges. Finding ways to provide a Catholic education that is accessible and affordable is always a priority.

To meet the challenges and to add to the successes of Catholic schools will take the support of the entire Catholic community. So join in the celebration of Catholic schools during Catholic Schools week and support them in any way you can.

Editorial: Pandemic has brought the necessity to find new ways to live our faith

Wearing masks and social distancing at Mass has become part of the routine at churches in the Diocese of Nashville since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parishes and the diocese have found new ways to maintain a connection with parishioners during the pandemic. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio

They say necessity is the mother of invention. That’s probably never been truer than in 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced people into their homes to protect themselves and their families, churches were faced with a new challenge: how to keep people connected to their church, each other and the faith.

The Diocese of Nashville, like dioceses and churches around the world, was forced to find new ways to safely proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, welcoming all.

Technology and the internet provided some answers. When Bishop J. Mark Spalding, like his brother bishops throughout the nation, issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation to keep people safe, a few parishes were already livestreaming Masses online. Others quickly made preparations to do the same.

Parishes saw other opportunities to use the internet. Priests recorded videos of themselves discussing the readings for the upcoming weekend Masses. Adult faith formation programs used online formats to bring people together for discussions.  

When attendance at Mass was limited to ensure proper social distancing, some parishes moved their Masses outdoors to allow more people to attend and spread out.

Priests had to find new ways to hear confessions while keeping their parishioners and themselves safe.

Schools at first had to figure out distance learning when they closed their buildings early in the pandemic last spring, then had to re-think the way they did everything to safely invite their students and teachers back into the classroom for in-person learning. They wore masks or face shields or both, spread their desks out, limited movement through the halls, and ate lunch at their desks. While many schools have opted for distance learning during the pandemic, which can disrupt family life and student achievement, our diocesan schools have worked hard to stay open using the many safety protocols they have implemented.

Diocesan events and ministries have also been affected, although they’ve carried on. Bishop Spalding ordained two new priests before a limited, masked and socially distant crowd at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Diocesan speaker series became online events. Important fundraisers moved online yet still managed to generate enough donations to support the various ministries of the diocese, all thanks to the wonderful generosity of the people of the diocese.

Some of these efforts have opened our eyes to new ways to doing things and reaching people that will continue after the pandemic comes to an end.

Although the work-arounds have been successful, they are not seamless replacements. 

Watching Mass on a laptop or a television allows us to participate in the Liturgy of the Word and in an Act of Spiritual Communion, but there are some things it can’t allow us to do. It can’t allow us that same sense of community that we feel when a group of people worship together in the same place shaking hands or embracing during the Sign of Peace, or holding hands as they pray the Our Father together. 

It doesn’t allow us the opportunity to catch up with friends over a donut and a cup of coffee after Mass. 

It doesn’t allow us the opportunity to kneel before the body and blood of Christ, the source and summit of our faith.

We look forward to the day when we can gather together safely once again. It still may be months away, but finally, with the approval of a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, there is a sense that it is coming. 

Until then, we’ll keep working around the restrictions the pandemic has forced on us. We’ll continue to find new ways to use technology to maintain a connection to our faith community. We’ll continue to wear masks and keep socially distanced not only to protect ourselves, but to protect everyone we meet. We’ll continue to pray. We’ll continue to take joy in the celebrations of the liturgical year, such as Christmas. We’ll continue to bring the light of Christ to the world in any way we can. We’ll continue to invent new ways to live the faith.

EDITORIAL: The light of Christ is stronger than any pandemic, any crisis

Pope Francis leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 6, 2020. No pandemic and no kind of crisis can extinguish the light of Christ, the pope said to visitors gathered in the square. CNS photo/Vatican Media

It has been an oppressive year. The COVID-19 pandemic has crowded into our lives, forcing us to rearrange how we work, how we worship, how we make those so important connections to family and friends.

As Christmas approaches, the pandemic threatens to smother some of the joy we normally feel as we celebrate Christ coming into our world to lead us to eternal salvation.

But we need not give in to the pandemic or to fear, Pope Francis assures us, for nothing can extinguish the light of Christ, he said in remarks after praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 6.

In his talk, the pope noted two familiar symbols of the holy season already visible in the square: this year’s Nativity scene that was being set up and a Christmas tree, a 92-foot tall spruce, already standing as a beacon of the season. They are among the many Christmas traditions practiced around the world, but they are more than that, the pope said. “They are signs of hope, especially in this difficult time.”

But if we are to truly fan the flames of this hope, we must go beyond mere symbols and traditions cast free of their foundation, which is Jesus, “the infinite goodness” that shines on the world, the pope said. To make our hope real and strong, we must have a true conversion of the heart. This is the conversion that is the aim of the Advent season.

Conversion requires a new “direction and orientation” in our lives and in our way of thinking, the pope said. We must turn “from evil to good, from sin to love of God,” he explained.

“To exclude sin, it is also necessary to reject everything that is connected to sin; the things that are connected to sin and that need to be rejected – a worldly mentality, excessive esteem for comforts, excessive esteem for pleasure, for well-being, for wealth,” the pope added.

Instead, we must seek communion and friendship with God, Pope Francis said. “But this is not easy,” he said. Temptations constantly try to pull us to the things that keep us close to sin, according to the pope.

It may be difficult, but it is not impossible, the pope reminded us, if we lean on God. “It is a grace that the Lord gives you, and thus we need to forcefully ask God for it” and “open ourselves up to the beauty, the goodness, the tenderness of God.”

“God is not a bad father, an unkind father, no. He is tender. He loves us so much, like the Good Shepherd, who searches for the last member of his flock,” the pope said.

“You begin to walk, because it is he who moves you to walk, and you will see how he will arrive,” Pope Francis added. “Pray, walk, and you will always take a step forward.”

Let this be the time we let God lift us above the fear, above the pandemic, above the temptations and sin that keep us from our Father. Let this be the time when we allow a conversion of the heart lead to a true and lasting change in our life.