Bishop Tylka reflects on pandemic anniversary from a foundation of faith

By Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka

Exactly one year ago, our lives in the United States were disrupted by the advent of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) exploding across the globe. Seemingly every aspect of our lives was touched by the reality of living in a time of pandemic. In many ways, life simply shut down.

Facing so many challenges to understand this viral and deadly disease, out of an abundance of caution, we were forced to make many difficult and often unpopular decisions for the Church. Perhaps the most difficult decision was the suspension of public participation in the Church’s sacramental life! In an instant, we went from “normal life” to living in isolation and fear. We were told to stay away from those closest to us unless we lived under the same roof. People could not go to their places of work and many lost their jobs. Students could not go to school. Health care workers and first responders became overwhelmed with the rapid spread of the disease. I am sure we could all add to the myriad of woes that the COVID-19 outbreak took upon our daily lives.

Having reached the one-year mark since the beginning of the pandemic, it is an opportune moment to reflect on our common experience and begin to recognize the lasting impacts of COVID-19. First, we must pause to grieve the tremendous loss that has occurred.

Now, a year later, there is a horizon of hope as several vaccines have been developed which are now being distributed.

LASTING IMPACTS

Having reached the one-year mark since the beginning of the pandemic, it is an opportune moment to reflect on our common experience and begin to recognize the lasting impacts of COVID-19. First, we must pause to grieve the tremendous loss that has occurred. In the United States, there have been more than 500,000 deaths directly related to the disease and likely many others that are somehow related. Families lost loved ones — often without the opportunity to say good-bye, and without the familiar and comforting rituals associated with mourning our dead.

And we experienced many other losses as well, which need to be grieved: loss of work, loss of significant life celebrations, loss of freedoms. Losses that are not grieved are losses that debilitate living. Without closure, the wounds of sadness simply remain as deep pools within us that stir up pain from time to time. Grieving allows us to learn to live with the losses we’ve experienced in a way that we are able to move forward as opposed to being mired in a deep pool of sadness. As believers in Jesus Christ, we hold on to the hope of a day when the waters of COVID will recede and a new day will dawn. We are certainly reminded in the season of Lent that the cross leads to resurrection.

In the midst of the darkest days, we witnessed heroic love in so many people.

It would be insufficient to reflect only on the negative realities of COVID without acknowledging the many good things that have also marked this journey. In less than a year’s time, the ingenuity of leading scientific minds have discovered vaccines that now point a path to overcoming the pandemic. In the midst of the darkest days, we witnessed heroic love in so many people: doctors and nurses, teachers and caretakers, grocery workers and truck drivers, and so many others who put themselves at risk to care for the sick, the dying, the lonely and afraid. Creativity allowed for new expressions of care, for new opportunities for community, for a deeper appreciation of the simplest acts of kindness that reflect a keen awareness of our common humanity – we are all sisters and brothers. Despite so many obstacles, our daily routines and practices were adapted to not only survive, but to also thrive amid the challenges of life during a pandemic.

PRECIOUS GIFTS OF LIFE, FAITH

I would like to address specifically what I believe has undergirded all of our experiences of the pandemic — namely, our faith! It is the foundation of our life as believers. Life is a precious, fragile gift from God. And I believe one lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a greater appreciation of this gift.

Life will not “return to normal.” Rather, a new way of living must be chosen — a way that incorporates the lessons of living through this pandemic. It begins with our faith — our faith in Jesus Christ.

As we wrestled, and continue to wrestle, with the impact of the disease we have seen a deepening desire for a greater connection to God and to greater connection to the sacred. We have missed celebrating Mass in-person and receiving Jesus’ Precious Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Our hearts have longed for the experiences we enjoy when we are with the ones we love, and the experience we have as worshiping together as members of the community of the Church.

With great creativity, our priests and religious, with the help of many of the faithful, dreamed of new ways to help us remain connected to the life of the Church. The use of technology, which in many ways is here to stay, has brought the “real” Church to the “virtual” world. But the virtual is no substitute for the real. The precious, fragile gift of faith in Jesus has awakened in us a deeper awareness of our need to be united with God and with each other.

LESSONS LEARNED

It is my fervent hope that the lessons we’ve learned by this common experience will draw us closer to each other — and closer to Jesus. By His cross, we are saved. By God’s grace we will overcome. Life will not “return to normal.” Rather, a new way of living must be chosen — a way that incorporates the lessons of living through this pandemic. It begins with our faith — our faith in Jesus Christ. Turning to him, we understand more fully the eternal truth that life is a precious, fragile, and sacred gift from God.

We mourn our losses. We celebrate our inspired creativity. We love more deeply all that God, in his mercy, has given us in this life and the eternal life to come.

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