Bridging the Gap, with Bishop Zubik

Photo credit: Justin Merriman

Back to the Future

Over the past six months you and I have learned a lot about worshiping “remotely.”

We learned how to Zoom for prayer meetings. We learned to FaceTime and YouTube our Masses. We longed for the day when we could return to Mass—as many of you are already able to do.  We are making the most of being remote.

From a spiritual standpoint, however, “remote” is a paradoxical word.  Although we have been remote physically, we are never remote spiritually from God.

God is for us; God is with us; God is within us.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, walks with us in good times and in the not so good.  He not only hears us when we call out; He is already with us unseen, waiting for our “shout out.”  When you and I are in need—and there have been many occasions of genuine need during these past COVID months—Jesus is with us.  He gives us the strength and grace and comfort to move forward.

We who follow Jesus are united for all time in a vast community of love and prayer.  Our ancestors in the faith, many of whom are saints, pray for us from above and are with us.  Many of them are our loved ones who have passed—spouses and parents, siblings and friends.  And many who pray for us are still with us.  While we may be physically remote from each other, as the Church, the family of Jesus, as the Body of Christ, we can never, ever, ever be alone or remote spiritually from one another.

You and I have and have had many prayer partners as we continue to face the challenges of the pandemic.

For several months, we could not gather physically for the sacraments.  COVID prevented safe places for Confession or the public celebration of the Mass.  First Holy Communions and Confirmations had to be delayed out of a necessary precaution for the good of all.  We all felt the loss of not being together in person for prayer.  When I had to make the decision to close our church buildings in mid-March, it was, as I have said on a number of occasions, one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make as a Bishop.  I had to explain that it was because the Church values and protects every human life.  You tried to understand.  Above all, I was encouraged to hear how many of you spoke up loudly about how much you value the Eucharist in your own lives.  We were and are spiritually present to each other!

So many of our people—you, our people—have lost jobs or had your hours cut back.  So many of you are hurting deeply and are in need of the prayers and encouragement from all of us.  At the same time, so many of our parishes and Catholic Charities stepped into the gap with emergency assistance.  We bore one another’s burdens.  For them, I am profoundly grateful.  We were and are spiritually present to each other!

Loved ones died, often isolated from family.  For many months we could not gather for wakes, funerals or even burials.  Our priests continue to work hard to offer comfort in these heartbreaking times.  They are now offering memorial Masses for the departed  These provide comfort for the emotional pain of a delayed funeral, but we all recognize that the delayed funeral added spiritual pain to emotional pain.  We were and are spiritually present to each other!

The loss of work and the closure of churches have had a major impact on our parishes.  Our priests together with your parish staffs have been nothing short of heroic.  Like so many of our parents and grandparents who had to make due in the lean times of the past, our priests and staffs are doing their best with far less resources and far fewer co-workers.  Lay leaders have stepped up in many important ways to organize ministries, food pantries, online rosary groups, online Alpha and Christlife,  discipleship forums, to name a few.  We were and are spiritually present to each other!

The diocese has had to make many cutbacks as well.  One of the first and most difficult was to suspend publication of the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper.

The paper had been struggling financially for nearly two years.  We were already planning to make significant changes to its publication schedule.  Because its distribution was mostly at Mass, and the advertising income it relied heavily upon was tied to that distribution, there was little or no way to continue its publication.  The dedicated staff of the paper was the first to feel the force of its shutdown.  Despite their longstanding dedication to the Church and to our diocesan weekly, we and they faced the harsh realities of COVID.

My staff and I all recognized that this decision had a difficult impact on parishioners who relied on the Catholic for news of the Church.  This column marks the first online-only edition of a new Pittsburgh Catholic.  It is beginning modestly with a much smaller staff than the print edition had.  My prayer is that it will grow and that we will eventually have a print edition at least quarterly.  In the meantime, I am asking our parishes to use THIS LINK to place it on their parish website and make printouts for inclusion in parish bulletins for those who are not online savvy.  My hope is that these efforts can spread the good news about what’s happening in our diocese and beyond so that you can catch up on news of the Church.  It’s not ideal.  But it is a step in the right direction.  It’s another example that we were and are spiritually present to each other.

In the midst of the challenges we have met, so many of you have inspired me with your faith and good works.  You continue to advance the reality that our diocese is “On Mission for The Church Alive!

The Spirit continues to breathe new life in us.  One of the visible signs of that reality is the fact that we have the largest entering class of seminarians in many years.  Fourteen new men have entered Saint Paul Seminary (in addition to the returning seven seminarians), beginning (and continuing) the many years of discernment and formation that may lead them to ordination as our priests.

 Pray for them.  They are already praying for you.  At the beginning of the lockdown in March, when the seminarians went home to continue their studies “remotely,” they began a ministry of prayer for all of you. They invited you to submit prayer requests through THIS LINK so that they could pray for your intentions.  They continue to do so, caring for you as part of the communion of saints even though most of them are years from ordination.  They were and are spiritually connected to you.

In each and all of the COVID experiences, we have looked beyond COVID and to our Christ to be “there” for each other and to be “here” with Christ.

Over the course of these past COVID months, we have heard the lingo “new normal.”  What “new normal” looks like has not yet come fully to light.

But in some small way, this article is an attempt to go “back to the future” by building on the past, standing on the shoulders of our ancestors in passing on the Good News today and in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.  In good times and in the not so good—we, you and I, are here for each other and for Jesus.  We were and are spiritually present to each other!