Beyond the Reach of Virtual Mass and Virtual Bulletins

In my part of the world, the churches have been open (at very limited capacity) for a little more than two weeks. And as in just about every other place, we’re wearing masks, the hymnals have been removed, there’s no holy water in the stoups, and “holy hand sanitizer” awaits you at the entrance where you check in with the ushers of a Sunday, for low-tech contact tracing.

And there are no bulletins.

Sure, you can read them online — and I do — but when a good number of parishioners are not comfortable with technology (if they even have access to a computer or smartphone at all), those parishioners are cut off from the life of the Church in yet another important way.

Yes. Bulletins are important. If the parish leaders think it’s important enough to create a bulletin (whether or not it’s offered in printed form, and during this pandemic, it’s digital only) then there needs to be a way to get them to the people who, I’d argue, miss them the most.

I wouldn’t even have thought of this, were it not for one of my friends, a fellow Secular Franciscan, who lives alone and does not have access to technology. While she is in good health, praise God, she is the ultimate people person and has definitely suffered during this time of isolation. I haven’t seen her at Mass yet because I have been singing at a different time than normal, but our first Sunday back she saw our music director after Mass and mentioned that she really missed reading the bulletin.

The music director immediately reached out to me after that conversation to see if I had a mailing address for this friend and ask if I’d take care of sending her a bulletin. Since I have a computer and a printer and envelopes and stamps, how could I say no? So I’ve been printing the bulletin and mailing it out on Monday morning, with a little note to say hello.

Yesterday my friend showed up at my front door with a little gift and a thank-you note. It has meant a lot to her to receive those bulletins in the mail. It’s no big deal for me to do this, but it’s a big deal for her to get them. She thanked me several times — for the love. And that’s what it really is, just a small gift of love.

(Boy, that was a tough visit. I could see her holding herself back. She just wanted to give me a hug. Her arms would start to move toward me, and then she’d catch herself. As I said, she’s the ultimate people person and an incurable hugger. It was heartbreaking.)

Here’s my challenge to you: Can you bless someone who’s not a digital native? Can you print a bulletin for someone in your parish who has no access to technology, but would love to read the parish news? If you don’t know someone, ask at the parish office if there is a homebound parishioner who would like to receive a bulletin with a note and a promise of prayer. Who knows: you may foster a friendship that lasts longer than the painter’s tape marking social distance in the church pews.

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

 


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Last Things

He’s missing all the lasts.

Last spring musical (and many associated events with that).

Last student council events and meetings.

Last lunchtime pick-up basketball games with friends.

Last day of class.

Last school picnic.

I’m normally not into the graduation sign thing, but given all the last things he’s missing, I ordered the sign this year.

This afternoon, for possibly the last time, I exceeded the speed limit on the school’s back driveway to pick up that sign for my front lawn.

Normally I’m not very sentimental, and I tend to shy away from social events associated with school, but I’m feeling sentimental today.

He’s my last kid to attend this school, and he’s made the most of his time there. He’s lived through a total reinvention of the school when it became an independent Catholic school in June 2018. He took on a leadership role in the student council and played the lead in the spring musical last year (and was supposed to do that again, before the coronavirus brought the students home from school and effectively closed down the stage).

I am hoping that the prom and graduation (now scheduled for midsummer) will get to take place, so these 52 kids who have been through a lot will have the chance to properly say goodbye to each other.

As for me, I may have said my goodbyes at 40 miles per hour in the back driveway this afternoon. Just in case I don’t get the chance to do so this summer.

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Rainbow over the back of the school, April 2016. Copyright Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Focused on Tomorrow

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

During these last four weeks, several people I know have noted, “This Lent is like one long Holy Saturday.”

In some ways, yes. It’s like we’re in suspended time. My teenager is having trouble keeping track of what day it is. I am, too. There’s not much to distinguish one day from another.

As of today, it’s been exactly four weeks since I’ve received the Eucharist. We attend the livestreamed Mass at our parish and are grateful to have that opportunity, but for me it only serves to increase my hunger for the sacraments.

Normally on Holy Saturday, we’re all focused on tomorrow. On any other Holy Saturday, I’d be putting together Easter treats for my kids (and for the one who lives two time zones away, I’d already have mailed something). I’d be ironing dress shirts and making sure I had every last ingredient I needed for a festive dinner with a special dessert (and maybe even appetizers if I was feeling extra ambitious). I’d be reviewing three or four responsorial psalms in advance of the Easter Vigil and double-checking my music binder to make sure everything for tonight and tomorrow was inside and in the right place.

This year, if I’m able to get potatoes, I’m thinking our festive Easter dinner (and all-day Easter project after online Mass) will be homemade pierogi.

This year, the tomorrow we’re focused on is the day we will be released from our own socially isolated “tombs” — the day we can once again leave our homes, visit with family and friends, be present at Mass.

For Jesus, that day was Easter. For us, it will be later.

But for today, let’s focus on Jesus’ tomorrow. Let’s focus on the Resurrection and the hope it signifies.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Urbi et Orbi: An Extraordinary Blessing

I’ve never watched a papal blessing or weekly Angelus before, but the extraordinary blessing Pope Francis offered Friday was not one I wanted to miss.

After all, I’m missing Mass. I’m missing Adoration. The suspension of all public activity is a bitter consequence of the novel coronavirus — and I pray that it minimizes the spread of the disease.

I have seen pictures of past papal events, though. There is always a crowd, even on a rainy day.

On Friday, there was no crowd in St. Peter’s Square. There was a pope. There was a priest. There was a crucifix.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The square was so empty, with only raindrops filling the space where people would gather to pray.

The Gospel told of another storm: a storm through which Jesus was sleeping until his distressed disciples woke him up and begged him to help them. And the wind and the sea obeyed (Mark 4:35-41).

As we struggle through the storm of fear, anger, isolation, uncertainty, and loss, we were reminded Friday that we do not struggle alone.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

More eloquent than the Pope’s words: the silent moments of prayer.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The moments of reverence.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The Adoration Chapel at my church is temporarily closed. Being present — thanks to an internet connection — at Adoration and Benediction with the Pope was a reminder that I shouldn’t take my ability to attend Mass and Adoration for granted.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

It is a gift to the faithful to be invited to a moment of private prayer made public.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

It is a gift to know that our Pope, our bishops, our priests, pray for us and with us. That, too, is something we take for granted.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The scene of Pope Francis holding the monstrance and offering the triple blessing over an empty square was an unforgettable moment.

His words that day were a comfort (and you should read them all) but his actions were even more so.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies. (from Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi message, March 27, 2020)

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

Read more about the miraculous crucifix venerated by Pope Francis during that moment.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Humility, Gentleness, and Patience

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I wake up in the morning and as I begin each day, I start thinking about how I’m going to spend my time. What work needs to be done? How much laundry will I need to wash and fold? What will I cook for dinner?

This morning I woke up and those same thoughts started spinning through my head. And then they were interrupted by a new question:

How will I bless my family today?

Living and working in close quarters, limiting or eliminating trips outside the house, dealing with the uncertainty of it all: we are going to need to bless our families by living out Ephesians 4:1-2 to the best of our ability.

We need to ask God to give us the grace to do this.

We are all going to need every bit of humility, gentleness, and patience that we can muster.

We are going to need to remember that this is hard on everyone. (I’m fully aware that I’m just as hard to live with, if not more so, as the one in the household I’m most exasperated with at any given moment.)

While we are deprived of some freedom right now, we are not, and can never be, deprived of God’s grace. He will shower it upon us. Let’s lean on that grace and bless our families with humility, gentleness, patience, and love.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz