Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina, and all tuning in to this message, warm greetings in the Risen Lord on this fine Spring day. May Spring rains soon find their way to us to water our fields and gardens.
Yesterday we released directives regarding the next steps in the reopening of our churches, which will take effect on Pentecost weekend, just over a week from now. They are released in the midst of no small tension within our local church, which is an echo of tensions across the country and beyond. There have been a lot of shrill comments made as of late, arising out of the frustration and hurt that many are feeling. Critical comments are coming from many directions: from those who are upset that our churches were closed to public Eucharistic gatherings, and are slow to reopen; from those who don’t feel they are ready to reopen their churches to even small numbers at this time; from those who feel abandoned at this difficult time. I have also heard from persons who have long ago been hurt by the church, and who know well the experience of being cut off from the sacraments because of insensitivity and a lack of compassion, who feel their voices are never heard. I lift all of you and the entire diocese before the Lord and ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit over all of us as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost.
The new directives begin by identifying underlying principles guiding our actions, including concern with the spiritual and sacramental life of our people, a concern for the physical health of all people, a desire not to contribute to the spreading of the COVID-19 virus, and the importance of following directives from Saskatchewan health authorities. I invite you to read the directives, which you will find on our website. They map out carefully what has been and continues to be allowed in our churches; the opening of our churches to Eucharistic gatherings of up to 10 people as of Pentecost; and the prospect of further steps in reopening. I also shared that faith leaders from across the province have requested a meeting with government and health officials, so that faith leaders can communicate their questions, concerns, and proposals, helping the government to help us through the phases of reopening. This will include a discussion about number restrictions as they apply to spaces for worship that could accommodate many more than 10 people while maintaining 2 metres distance between those gathered. Conversation with political leaders has begun, and a meeting is in the process of being set up.
Those called to exercise leadership at this time have used various metaphors to describe the challenges that it brings. We are in uncharted territory, we are building the plane while flying it. But those images don’t communicate the faith perspective, which reminds us that we are always needing the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of the Risen Lord. That is very much the case today, but it is always the case. We need and depend upon the help of God.
When, like most dioceses around the world, we made the decision to suspend public gatherings of the Eucharist, it was not first and foremost because of government restrictions. It is true that we were not listed as a critical public service, not listed among those exempted from closure. It is true that leading up to Easter, both the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer encouraged us not to gather outside of our households, to find ways to celebrate in our homes. But it resonated most with us when we were encouraged to do everything we could to protect the most vulnerable in our societies, and to do our part for the common good of not spreading the virus. The Church is called to protect the most vulnerable, and we knew that we needed to do our part and to model that for others.
Now that we are able to take steps towards reopening, people are rightly asking us how we are making key decisions and scrutinizing each step. As with previous steps, so too with steps going forward. I would offer you this, acknowledging our limitations, sinfulness, and sense at times of being overwhelmed, here is where we put our trust. We place it firmly in the Holy Spirit, for whom no situation is hopeless or impossible, and who continues to communicate with us in many ways. Among them, we have heard the Spirit call us to listen to people who know more about epidemiology and virology than we do. We have listened to the sick and the vulnerable, including those who have tested positive with the virus, and those whose lives can be saved by a careful response to this crisis; we have sought to learn from communities near and far who have suffered outbreaks, and have kept them in prayer; we have listened to those who hunger for a return to the Eucharist, and those who have asked for us to reach out in other ways to address their spiritual needs. We have attended to directives and recommendations from the government, and have asked to open a respectful conversation so that faith communities can be included in phases of reopening. We have drawn on the authoritative, consultative bodies of laity and clergy to seek input. And we have been in regular communications with other Dioceses, learning from each other as we have prepared protocols and policies. In these and other ways, none more so than in prayer, we have sought the guidance of the Risen Lord and have felt his presence. In the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, we can say, “and dost thou touch me afresh; over again I feel thy finger and find thee.”
From multiple perspectives, people will critique and carefully monitor the steps we are taking. That is fine, right, and good. But I kindly ask all of you to safeguard the unity of the Church in your questioning; to not underestimate the complexity of the situation we are in; to not judge harshly those who, prayerfully and out of their own experience, see things differently than you.
Let me close with a quotation from John Henry Cardinal Newman, writing 150 years ago about decision-making in the Catholic Church. Newman writes that “Catholic Christendom is no simple exhibition of religious absolutism, but presents a continuous picture of Authority and Private Judgment alternately advancing and retreating as the ebb and flow of the tide; it is a vast assemblage of human beings with wilful intellects and wild passions, brought together into one by the beauty and the Majesty of a Superhuman Power, into what may be called a large reformatory or training-school, not as if into a hospital or into a prison, ... but brought together as if into some moral factory, for the melting, refining, and moulding, by an incessant, noisy process, of the raw material of human nature, so excellent, so dangerous, so capable of divine purposes.”
As we prepare to celebrate the great feast of the Ascension, let us ask the Triune God, who authors, sanctifies and redeems us, to put our humble efforts at the service of such divine purposes. God bless you all.
Archbishop Don's Weekly Message Video - Watch HERE
Page URL: http://archregina.sk.ca/news/2020/05/21/steps-towards-reopening