The Beauty of Discipline – Pastor’s Reflection
June 2020 challenged the life of our city and nation in serious ways. At the same time it helped the medicine go down in a most delightful way. Our spoonful of sugar came in days of exhilarating light and clarity.
On one of halcyon days, about two weeks ago, I barreled out of St. Vincent Ferrer Priory in the direction of my favorite barista. Electronically I had commissioned a beverage to keep the edge on. The sun warmed me, the air refreshed me, and the green trees delighted me. Then I heard a gracious voice, “Sir, may I ask you for a dollar?” The voice belonged to a very dignified lady who resides in our neighborhood and presides at any number of its corners. It mortified me to realize that in these days of app-ordering I had no shareable cash. So I offered an apology, which she graciously accepted and then added, “but please go get a mask and be safe.” I blushed, thanked her for the reminder, and retraced my steps to get the covering from my office. My second lap for coffee had all the same pleasures as the first, minus the delicious fresh air.
But after I got over being flustered about the mask I got a very fresh insight about my encounter with the gentlewoman in question. She and I had engaged in something more than an edifying conversation between neighbors. We were two New Yorkers supporting each other in a common discipline. She was watching out for me and I hope I would have done the same for her. For three months our parish and city have embraced a regimen designed to protect our health and it placed extraordinary demands in every area of our life. For practicing Catholics it has meant living without the sacraments which are their ordinary spiritual sustenance. Naturally, people did not eagerly embrace a lockdown, and naturally, many have lifted it from below well before it is lifted from above. But before we hurry on we should recall that for three months we held firm in an extraordinary way of life.
Many have lodged medical, legal, and aesthetic objections to every element of the plan, and about these I am in no position to make a judgement, except to assert that no one looks better in a mask. Nevertheless, I come out of lockdown edified that many thousands of people heeded those charged with public health and embraced a series of challenging disruptions in their personal, professional, and social lives. Naturally, we protected ourselves, but we also perceived the common good and worked for it. Our capacity for this gives me a new lease on public life.
We focus frequently on our divisions, and these cut across politics, economics, and culture, often in debilitating ways, but the masks and the distancing connect us across those same lines. Just think of it, people of all ages, colors, shapes, and wallets accepting the blue paper emblem of pandemic times. That we have sustained these common disciplines for so long tells we have social and spiritual strength with room to grow.
Growth shines out as a fruit we can take from this unique time we did not choose, nor would choose again. When people can sacrifice their the lifestyle, their looks, and their fresh air for the common good they grow less self absorbed and more aware of needs beyond pleasure and convenience. Such a stance gives a foundation for communal renewal. Recent events point to the fraying of the social fabric, but the disciplines of the pandemic suggest its abiding suppleness.
I discern this resilience in the masked souls I share the avenues with, but I also perceive it in my Dominican Brothers and Sisters who have turned on a dime to new patterns of common life and ministry. I see it in our parish staff who have shown amazing resourcefulness and dedication during these long weeks. They never gave up.
I also recognize it in my parishioners who settled in to the routine of live streamed Mass and Spiritual Communion. Some even became collaborators in the live streamed apostolate. I would be preaching and see Nadir or Tracey come bounding over to (then) Br. Hyacinth or Br. Albert and I would know that someone was letting us know that the sound was bad, or that we were upside down on their screen. Such commentators are not content to be passive consumers, but have come to “own” the ministry. They had joined their clergy in a common discipline of connecting the Mass and Rosary to as many people as possible, as effectively and beautifully as possible.
The encounters captured in these lines flew by, and need not have been noticed among a sea of Covid concerns, but they stand out as evidence of God sustaining the fabric of things, even when no thing or no one seems able to. When I see His grace at work fueling human stick-to-it-iveness I find reassurance for going forward and then some.
I submit that perseverance during Covid will yield amazing fruit after Covid, and I am prepared to be amazed.
Published in our bulletin June 28, 2020