Running Together – Pastor’s Reflection
May 3, 2020
At this writing, April 24, May looks like a passage without rites. May 2, yesterday to you, should have witnessed the running of the Kentucky Derby, but my hometown hunkers down for the long stretch. For Sunday May 3 my calendar indicates 10 am Sung Mass with First Holy Communion. Think of the girls and boys excited to walk St. Catherine’s long aisle as the homestretch in their race to meet their Eucharistic Lord. But the finery of this weekend quarantines in its protective gear: like the forlorn jockey silks at Churchill Downs, countless pretty white dresses and smart suits hope to emerge from the plastic and fulfill their purpose. Some day they will thrill their wearers, delight a congregation, and reassure a priest that the life of Holy Church has resumed.
I hope to be that priest. In the last lap of my tenth year as your pastor, every length in the parish year’s course registers as familiar terrain. I can feel how much muddier the track was this Lent. Indeed, from the starting gate on Holy Cross Day (all night watch at St. Catherine’s) to the finish line on Corpus Christi (procession and benediction) the whole run is a rite of passage for me, and to see the course closed ahead brings real sadness. But I contemplate losing one May out of ten, so my grief pales next to the loss and frustration of those for whom this should have been a spring gallop for the history books.
How many were running for roses this May? How many races of study and preparation, of courtship and sportsmanship were to culminate now in a winner’s circle of adoring family and friends? One cannot imagine the dismay of children, young people, couples, and their families. They fast now from moments crucial to life’s normal progress. For Louisvillians the Kentucky Derby is a rite of passage central to the community’s identity, but the personal mile markers evaded or truncated this Spring hit close to plans and hearts and souls.
First Communion tells the whole story though.
In the celebration that will not happen today I discern a loss and a find to ponder in unison. Not receiving Holy Communion means a loss of sacramental connection with the Risen Lord and His members. Our young communicants now join the Elect and Candidates for Full Communion to swell the ranks of those longing to take up the Eucharistic life, the essential bonding at the heart of Catholic practice. But now the whole Body of Christ knows the desire for tangible connection to the Head. Of course priests and bishops say Mass and there receive the Eucharist, but they long to share it, to be prevented brings a frustration that goes to the heart of their vocation. Giving communion expresses the intimacy they have with their people.
But loss of communion speaks the truth about every rite of Spring gone virtual or gone late. In the end people will receive sacraments and diplomas, but they will miss the chance to connect their loved ones to the growth in their lives. More festive dinners and more presents will come, but they will not replace the priceless chance to stand in the moment and say, “Look how I have become more myself as God designed me to be.” Such exultation does not brag, it bears witness. We feel the absence of these May festivals because they make clear the deepened connection people have with their very selves, as in Eucharistic Communion we discern that we are fully connected to ourselves in fellowship with God and neighbor.
Much of what we cannot celebrate this month concerns learning. Boys and girls, women and men, have raced themselves to learn about transubstantiation or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, how to be a catholic spouse or a catholic priest. In every academic endeavor someone has grown holy in the crucible of a thesis or dissertation. Sanctified alongside them are the teachers, catechists, formators, and parents who make a life of fostering the talents and virtues of others. Think, too, of the musicians, caterers, florists, and planners whose talents bloom annually in the May heat of events.
The pandemic has locked down the finish line on all these sprints to achievement, and perhaps the agile responder just keeps running. Every type of learner can now learn to retrieve substance from loss. The winners of this May’s race will grasp the significance of human communion as we preserve it on the telephone, in emails, and via Zoom. They will grasp that as we keep our distance and smile through masks we cultivate in backwards fashion a deeper and more abiding fellowship. These measures never close the gap of closeness though, so when we come close again we will hold closeness close indeed.
What about the other race, the one we all run together at this moment? For now each of us learns about communion by the endurance of it. In quarantine we go the distance with ourselves and our beloved and we discover intimacy as the strictest of disciplines. Communion demands a choice to persevere, made new each day.
Our advance in communion we can bring as a victor’s trophy to Holy Communion. What a thought that when I get to give you, and your children, the Eucharist, and you get to receive it, we will perceive more deeply His Body who has gained us lasting intimacy with our God, with each other, and with ourselves. Receiving that body, we will grasp the great gift and deep challenge of belonging to it. If socially and sacramentally we find communion through its dearth and its excess, then we are running on Christ’s strength toward the finish line that cannot be locked down, the celebration that will not be cancelled, and the eternal fellowship that will never be virtual.