"The Catholic Church is not empty, it has been deployed."
This insight of Sherry Weddell, brought to my attention by my first ESTEEM mentee and Yale Divinity School alumna, Nicole Perone, is the perfect tagline for our time. We are experiencing Lent, Holy Week, the Triduum and Easter against the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
My work enables and now compels me to be in direct communication with the leaders and CEOs of our country’s largest Catholic ministries: Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, the National Catholic Education Association, the consortium of Catholic philanthropic foundations, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Leadership Council of Woman Religious, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Papal Nunciature, among many others.
The church - our church - is on the frontlines of providing healthcare, food, shelter, education, financial support, protective equipment, medicine, supplies and pastoral care at the local level, across the nation and in every part of the globe. The church - our church - is on the frontlines of providing advocacy and support for people in prison, refugee and immigrant families, people without homes, people newly or chronically unemployed, elderly persons in isolation, persons who are disabled, persons who are trafficked, and young adults who can’t go home. The only true common denominator for those our church is serving is that they belong to the human family and they are in need. As the famous saying goes, we don’t care for people because they are Catholic, we care for people because we are Catholic.
Before we entered a Lent we could not fathom, I imagined writing about Holy Thursday, and the life of service to others to which Christ invites us to commit, from the vantage point of Fr Bob Beloin. Fr Bob loved the Triduum, which commences tonight, with his whole being and his whole heart. He would be pointing us to these three sacred days, central to our faith, where we enter more deeply into the life, passion, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. He would ask rhetorically, but with enthusiasm, “how could the Triduum begin without a personal invitation to love and serve others as Jesus has loved and served us?” He would require that all present submit to having our feet washed. He was adamant that we hear and internalize the imperative from Jesus in today’s Gospel, “as I have done for you, you should also do.”
I miss Fr Bob every day. The night before Palm Sunday, the eve of Holy Week, I dreamt of him. He was fully alive as he has been in each of the four dreams I have had of him since he died of glioblastoma 18 months ago. He was energetic, free, youthful and in high demand. He had an almost superhero capability, coupled with deep wisdom and joy. He wanted to remind us that he is always with us and one day, not yet, we would know what true, eternal reunion will feel like.
He would be so proud of our pastoral team, staff, students, faculty, board and faith community at Saint Thomas More Chapel at Yale. The way we remain spiritually close, while physically distant in order to save lives. The way the pastoral team and staff flawlessly pivoted to provide liturgies and communal prayer by livestream and Zoom now reaching students and alumni and people hungry for the word of God wherever they are. He would marvel at the daily acts of courage and commitment, compassion and care that Catholic women and men, ordained, religious and lay, all over the world are performing as essential personnel to come to the aid of people in need. He would see our personal and collective acts of solidarity and action, advocacy and healing as signs of hope, of life-giving acts of mercy, of testaments of love, of conscious decisions to bear witness to new life.
He would say, “You’ve got it! This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.”