“Bridging the Gap”: An Extraordinary Year

Bishop Zubik’s “Bridging the Gap” column

Photo credit: Justin Merriman

In an ordinary year, many of us would be busy making plans for celebrations with family and friends for Thanksgiving.  We would be preparing to travel or getting the spare bedroom ready for an important visitor.

But 2020 has been an extraordinary year.

We have faced an enemy from without—a deadly virus that spreads easily and is growing stronger as we await our treasured holy days of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas.  Some of us have lost loved ones; some have lost livelihoods.  We have lost our ordinary rhythms of life.  My heart still aches for families of those who were buried this year without a Funeral Mass and even without the presence of loved ones.  Most devastating for us as Catholics, we have lost access to more frequent opportunities to receive the sacraments. 

We have also faced an enemy from within—the anger, accusations and outright lies that at times characterized our conversations with and about others.  Some of us have family or friends who stopped speaking to each other or us due to this year’s political campaigns.  Many felt abandoned by the political parties, neither of whom reflected the wide spectrum of Catholic teaching.  We are witnessing racism, violence and even threats of armed insurrection against the very principles upon which our country has been built.

The time must come:

  • to heal;
  • to remember Jesus’ command to love one another.

Neither love nor healing require us to agree with our neighbors.  But both love and healing require us to care about each other, to speak civilly with and about each other.

Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are upon us.  Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas expect—no, demand—that we both love and heal. 

Some ideas for how to do both.

For Thanksgiving, let’s make it a spiritual exercise to count our blessings and thank God for them.  No matter what you and I have lost, let’s reflect on what we have received.  Perhaps it’s a roof over our head or the ability to remember someone who has gone to God.  Perhaps it’s the parent or child who loves you and me.  Perhaps it’s a priest or deacon who has given us help and comfort.  Perhaps it’s taking notice of the change in the seasons.

The time is NOW to thank God for the many blessings, one and all.  They are all His gifts, His hand at work throughout our days.  For whatever you and I are grateful, they are all His gifts.

Advent, beginning several days after Thanksgiving, is a call to prepare once again for the anniversary of Jesus’ birth—a time to remember all that Mary and Joseph went through both before and after the birth of Jesus.

Recalling what happened in the Holy Land more than two thousand years ago goes deeper than recalling “the little town of Bethlehem.”  During Advent and beyond, you and I need to prepare to welcome Jesus into our hearts at this moment in history. 

If it’s been a long time since you’ve read the Bible, let Jesus speak to you through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve gone to Confession, find an open opportunity where Jesus can share His mercy with you in the forgiveness of sins.

And finally, let Christmas be more than “the holidays.”  After all, it IS the birthday of our Savior who came to bring peace, good will and salvation not just back then but especially now.  Let’s make Christmas a spiritual commitment—to promote peace and good will.  Let’s open ourselves to the gift of Christmas by letting Jesus give His heart to us and by giving our hearts to each other.

In the little town of Bethlehem, the angel gave a shout out with these words: “Peace on earth, good will to all”—a promise of hope and victory in the midst of a political situation that was at least as volatile as our own time.  We follow the Prince of Peace who commanded us to love our neighbor, not be messengers of anger and division.  Every word that we speak, every email we send, every message that we post are necessary opportunities to reflect the love of the Savior.

As 2020 moves toward 2021, we need to be pro-life people who respect the absolute value of each other.  Just as we have an obligation (not simply the option) to protect unborn children, to feed the hungry, to shelter the immigrant and to visit prisoners, we have an obligation to see the face of Jesus in the face of each other.

Over the course of 2020, we have come to learn that face masks must be an important part of our wardrobe.  They are more than that.  They have enabled us to pay more attention to the eyes of the other.  When I was a youngster, my first grade teacher, Sister Estelle, taught us that “the eyes are the windows to the soul.”  The older I get, the more I have come to appreciate how “right on” Sister Estelle was.  Through our encounter of the eyes, as we have the chance to peek into somebody else’s soul, we are invited to respect the absolute value of the other, of each other—because God has made us so. 

While we may not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas with family or friends the way we’d like; while COVID may have grounded or upended our plans to travel or get the spare room ready for an important visitor, God can transform the rest of 2020 into an extraordinary year. 

If we let go of our anger and mend a broken relationship, 2020 can become an extraordinary year. 

If we put down our social media and spend time reading the Bible, 2020 can become an extraordinary year.

If we can look into the eyes of the other and see the face of Jesus, 2020 can become an extraordinary year.

Let’s make it so!