“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” – The Gospel according to Luke, 2.1
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Go to our parish website, and the banner on the home page reads: “Christmas Mass Registration.” I had it put up, but it does not sit well with me. Registration, “reserve seating only,” ushers told to turn people away when we hit our much-reduced capacity, none of this seems right, feels right. Head and heart, reason and emotion both say, this is wrong.
I won’t argue the merits of government policy here. Rather, I would like to briefly reflect on its effects upon us, and what we are called to do in the midst of what is a spiritual crisis.
The Church cannot gather as it has historically in times of trouble; the community is dispersed like sheep scattered in the wilderness. The pastors, we who shepherd, are restrained from action by civil authorities. We cannot go readily, or by familiar ways, to find the separated and the lost. Through the sterile virtual landscape, by means of “apps” and other “online” resources, we must search, find, and re-connect people to people, and people to God.
This is a deepening of a longer-standing crisis. As a society, we’ve been detaching from real community, as the connecting tissue of church, schools, local business, true local governance (not local representation within a huge amalgam of communities), and simply knowing our neighbours is progressively cut away. Poor substitutes are offered via the digital universe and its ubiquitous screens that peer into our lives more than serve as windows on the world. As Pope Francis has warned, “Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity.” (Fratelli tutti, 43)
Few understand that the virtual lives we lead, that give the semblance of connection via social media and newsfeeds, are an illusion generated by algorithms; that by their selectivity, omissions and exclusions, distort according to our biases and the interests of those who pay to be given priority in search engines and crowd out independent voices. We are kept in the dark by the glowing screens.
Our auxiliary bishop-elect, the Most Rev. Wayne Lobsinger, in a recent Advent homily spoke of Advent as a time to go beyond remembrance and fantasy. We must avoid being overly sentimental about the past, nor escape from current difficulties into fantasies of heaven. Instead, we must remember that Christ has come, He is with us; and we who are His Church, we are “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5.14)
Each and everyone of us is to carry that light, not hide it under the bushel basket. How do we hold up this light, not only as a beacon of hope for others, but to illumine our own way in difficult times?
We are called to fresh inventiveness, to innovation, to use today’s technologies that despite a capacity to connect everyone, has delivered increasing isolation. Like the Roman roads that spread the dominance of an empire, we must find a way to use today’s conduits of communication to spread the gospel to others, and share in its glory among the faithful in study, discussion, and creative expression of God’s life-giving Word.
However, this is not a mere matter of technology. It is about, as it always has been, disciples willing to take to the road, “to be sent” as apostles (from the Greek apostolein, “to be sent”). While the parish can make investments in wiring up its buildings for “streaming” and make online resources like FORMED available to parishioners, none of this works without people willing to learn how to use the technology to make real human connection. As Pope Francis tells us, “We need constantly to ensure that present-day forms of communication are in fact guiding us to generous encounter with others, to honest pursuit of the whole truth, to service, to closeness to the underprivileged and to the promotion of the common good.” (Fratelli tutti, 205)
We are in the process of building up the infrastructure to provide these new ministries. Karen Kiely is our new volunteer coordinator, ready to help anyone realize their gifts in ministry. We have a few technically-minded parishioners who’ve begun the work of sorting out how to best exploit the online environment. The parish is “wiring up” the parish centre and our worship space to be capable of streaming meetings, seminars, liturgies, etc. through the internet.
This upgrading or our internet services is being done at unexpected expense. We’ve taken the initial step of extending cabling as preliminary to the installation of cameras, etc. that make streaming possible. Revenues are down currently despite the tremendous support of so many. Our expenses are also reduced as parish activity has lessened. However, this hasn’t left a sufficient surplus for this unexpected initiative. So, any additional financial help through the annual Christmas collection would be much appreciated by the parish leadership.
Our Parish Advisory Council, our Finance Committee, Worship Committee have been working prayerfully and diligently in finding solutions to the problems arising from the current crisis. I know by faith that this work is preparatory to wonderful things.
When Pope Gregory the Great was enthroned at St. Peter’s in 590 A.D. he took over a diocese much diminished (Rome’s population had declined from over 2 million to 20,000) and beset by plague. He framed the challenge with these words: Affliction strengthens the vigor of our soul.
With vigor he launched the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome that successfully Christianized the British Isles. Out of surrounding adversity, he triumphed for Christ, through steadfast faith and dogged, persistent, steady effort. He said, “You don’t climb a mountain in leaps and bounds, but by taking it slowly.”
Let us move, perhaps, a little more quickly in this high-speed, 5G, high-def age of ours, but move nonetheless: toward the manger in adoration, along the road as with the disciples, to the foot of the cross, to the empty tomb, to the glories of the Ascension and of Pentecost in this coming year of our Lord, 2021.
May God bless you all abundantly. Merry Christmas,
Fr. Scott Whitfield