Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Labor Day usually marks the unofficial end to summer and, in normal circumstances, we would be preparing for a return to our normal fall and winter routines. Parents would be accompanying their children to school, telling them to be good and play nice, and our high school students would be looking forward to an exciting year filled with the challenges of a new curriculum, sports and social engagements. Our college students would be adjusting to their new surroundings, realizing career choices are just around the corner and hoping to network and position themselves in society. There would be community meetings and parish responsibilities, fundraisers for adults, and our seniors would be looking forward to supporting their families and volunteering their time to help their neighbors.
However, this pandemic has changed the landscape. We wear masks, maintain social distance and limit the number of people involved in social gatherings. I have been asked a few times: “Archbishop, when do you think this will end?” To quote the great social thinker Yogi Berra, I respond, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially when it’s about the future.” I do believe that a vaccine will be available soon. However, distribution will present a problem and so will convincing people of the need to be vaccinated.
There will be unforeseen consequences to the behavioral adjustments we have made. Will our sanitation procedure lead to a diminished spread of coronavirus and the common flu, or will a sanitized environment lead to a breeding ground for virus mutations? What effect will social distancing have on our children, who develop immunities in their social interactions with other students? Will personal doctors continue to see patients virtually and, without the healing hands or touch of the physician, how will that affect diagnosis? Will businesses return to normal and support an economically challenged middle-class, or will we go into economic malaise?
Remember, our Church has also behaviorally adjusted. We have created worship spaces to accommodate social distancing, held virtual meetings for parish administration, and limited the celebration of Sacraments (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.) to immediate family members. In our recent past, we have been blessed to worship with choices open to our needs, having access to many Sunday Masses within a few miles from our homes. The Sacraments were celebrated and enjoyed during our community worship. This has changed.
What will be the consequences of these behavioral adjustments? Will there be a decline in Sunday attendance? Or, will worshippers become stronger, recognizing the essential element that Sunday worship provides for identifying ourselves as Catholic? Without access to the Eucharist, will many continue to treat the Eucharist as a symbol of connection to the assembly or breaking bread with our neighbors? Or, will hunger for the Eucharist lead us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Real Presence and the gift of receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? Will we view the Church as an extension of our social lives, much like a club? Or, will the Church be the sign of our salvation and redemption, calling us to spread the Gospel, no matter what problems or evils confront us?
I do know for certain that going forward, whatever challenges arise, we will encounter them with a firm resolution to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the September 8, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.