Priests urged to live ‘mystery of the cross’ to meet church’s post-COVID challenges

Msgr. Eugene Morris addresses priests of the Diocese of Peoria on the challenges of the post-COVID church during his keynote talk at Priest Assembly Days at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria on Oct. 18. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Priests must live the “mystery of the cross” in order to respond to pastoral challenges including division and indifference that have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re all waiting to see — now that life is, in a sense, returning to normal and more freedoms are able to be exercised — are we going to see a return of the faithful to the pews?” asked Msgr. Eugene Morris, keynote speaker when priests from throughout the Diocese of Peoria gathered for their Assembly Days on Oct. 19-20.

Msgr. Morris is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a frequent speaker and retreat master. He addressed more than 100 priests on the opening morning of Assembly Days at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. (See related story)

In what he called “an honest discourse about things we’re confronting as priests,” Msgr. Morris said there is no easy road ahead as they navigate changes in today’s society and church.

“EMBRACE THE CROSS”

“The indifference of the world to Christ, the church, and the priesthood existed before COVID and now have become an excuse for people not to be bothered,” said Msgr. Morris, a former assistant professor at Kenrick–Glennon Seminary who now serves as rector of the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine in Richmond Heights. Some of their parishioners, he acknowledged, will not return after the pandemic.

But he repeatedly assured the priests that, even if it seems the world doesn’t want what they have to offer, it needs them and they are “well-equipped” to respond in the post-COVID church.

He urged the priests to “strive for holiness so we can offer them something they can’t refuse — the true understanding and meaning of life.”

It’s no easy task.

“We’re talking about perennial truths that at the heart require sacrifice and selflessness and the mystery of the cross in an age that doesn’t want any of that,” said Msgr. Morris, citing examples of narcissism and self-love being celebrated in today’s culture. Priests, however, must be “men who embrace the cross,” practice humility, strive for holiness and offer that way of life to others because “we know of the new life gained for us upon the cross.”

“THE WORLD NEEDS PRIESTS”

Another challenge in the post-COVID church will be divisions that existed before the pandemic but now are more evident in nearly all of the priests’ relationships — divisions in the church, among their brother priests, and among their parishioners.

“All of us have had to navigate a very narrow road to continue to minister to our faithful both in the midst of shutdown and now in the world in which we find ourselves.” — Msgr. Morris

“All of us have had to navigate a very narrow road to continue to minister to our faithful both in the midst of shutdown and now in the world in which we find ourselves,” said Msgr. Morris. “People who are angry at us because we are doing too much. People who are angry with us because we’re doing too little. We’re trying to respond to everyone and truly be all things to all men, but to do so in Christ.”

He recalled crying the day he took the blue tape off the pews at his church that socially distanced the faithful.

“It was a wonderful feeling,” said Msgr. Morris. “One less thing I had to navigate.”

He said priests are called to be a “bridge between God and man.” The best way to keep a divided flock “all operating under the same fire, the same zeal, and moving in the same direction” is to love, follow, and imitate Christ in their own lives.

“The world needs priests — today, tomorrow, and always until the end of time,” said Msgr. Morris.

 

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