Stories of hope and help, service and support — examples of living as Christ to others in new and meaningful ways — are already marking the spiritual life of the faithful in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This past Sunday, March 22, marked the halfway point of the Lenten season. The fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Laetare Sunday: “Laetare” means “rejoice.” In his homily on Laetare Sunday, livestreamed at 11 a.m., Father David Violi at St. Joseph Parish, Bluffton, reminded worshippers that, despite the unusual situations in which the world finds itself now, “we are still called to rejoice.”
“As Christians, no matter what we face in this life, we always face it with hope,” Father Violi appealed. “Let us see this time as an opportunity to rekindle the flame of faith in our lives. Let us earnestly set aflame that desire for our Lord in His sacrament, most especially in the Eucharist.
“I pray that this zeal to receive inflames every heart. May we use this time, then, to prepare our hearts for when that day comes. This journey that lies ahead will, in the end, bring us closer to Christ if we keep ourselves focused on Him.”
Father Violi compared the suspension of public Mass to Holy Saturday, when Jesus lays in the tomb and the world waits in sorrowing expectation. “One of the important things to remember is that this isn’t normal. We can see it in a bad way or in a good way. God works in the unusual.” Father Violi advised families to spend time together in prayer, to “break open” the “rich traditions” of the Catholic faith.
To those who follow Father Christopher Lapp, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Mishawaka, on Facebook, two invitations were issued March 17.
“Feel the absence. If we are going to assert how necessary the sacraments are … then we should be deeply moved by this time,” he said, as his first invitation. Father Lapp sees this as an opportunity to witness to the love of the sacraments, particularly to the younger generations.
His second challenge was to “strive to be holy anyway.” Striving for holiness in “extreme circumstances” allows for a deeper spiritual growth and a means to witness the Catholic faith for the sake of those most in spiritual need.
“We didn’t choose this and yet we are obedient,” stated Father Lapp. “That’s incredibly important and we will miss out on a lot if we grow embittered … The Lord will be faithful. He will be generous … Let’s stand up straight and strive to be saints. Together.”
Instances of charity and support have taken on many different notes. Within the diocesan community, sometimes even complete strangers have responded to situations involving their fellow Catholics.
Chris and Ellen Langford were forced to cancel plans to travel to New Jersey to watch their daughter, Sister Lucia Marie Langford, profess her first vows as a Dominican sister March 14. To be able to livestream the ceremony instead, at no cost, the Dominican sisters needed to get 1,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel.
The Langfords reached out to their network of family, friends and the parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Fort Wayne, to try and get the needed amount. “A lot of people went the extra mile for us,” Ellen stated. Many parishioners and their friends and family, as well as the Fidelis girls’ group, did their part to help. “My son David got all the seminarians to pitch in,” she added. In the end, over 1,500 people subscribed, and the Langford family was able to watch live as Sister Lucia Marie took her first vows and received her black veil. Although only a couple members of the family could be there in person, many were able to watch online and add their prayers for Sister Lucia Marie.
Knowing that the elderly are the most vulnerable, a group of about five students from Marian High School, Mishawaka, offered their grocery-shopping services earlier this month to South Bend parishes. “
“There isn’t much we can do,” said Annie Henry, one of the students. “We were thinking of ways to help and thought we could go grocery shopping for the elderly. It’s a necessary thing, but not safe for them to do.” The teens have helped at both St. Jude and St. Pius X parishes, and they have requested that anyone in need of their services should contact the St. Jude Parish office.
Liz Walker, a teacher at Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, offered her expertise through Facebook to those who may need extra assistance with their studies. She has also been teaching classes from home, discussing Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudate Si’.” Bishop Luers High School, also in Fort Wayne, offered laptop rentals at no cost so all students could participate in e-learning.
Going beyond the classroom, youth groups are reaching out to each other in new ways as well. At St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Fort Wayne, the answer was an online platform.
“I’ve never been able to check in daily with the teens. Their schedules are too busy for that,” said leader Stacey Huneck, “Suddenly, everyone has become available and I want to minister to teens during their time of isolation.”
Father John Delaney, pastor at St. Jude Parish in South Bend, acknowledges the difficulty in reaching out to the faithful, but professes that “it never ceases to amaze how community can come together and really think ‘out of the box’, to help one another during this time.”
With the aid of modern technology, faithful Catholics are uniting in online rosaries and Mass, praying for and with each other, beyond the reaches of their homes.
Joshua Schipper contributed to this article.
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