On the afternoon of March 6, I walked around the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, saying goodbye to students as they headed off for Spring Break. On that cold afternoon, it was unimaginable that those students wouldn’t come back to campus to finish out the school year. It was even more unimaginable that our University, where the Mass has always been at the center of campus life, would cease the public celebration of the Eucharist.
Tragically, at Franciscan University, like everywhere else, the global spread of the coronavirus quickly made the unimaginable our new reality.
I’ve been living with that new reality for over two weeks now, and I don’t like it. So, last week, I decided to do something about it: I hung a white ribbon on the door of our University chapel.
Let me explain.
It breaks my heart to not celebrate the Mass with students, faculty, staff, and their families. I miss the singing and the filled pews, the cries of babies and the responses of the faithful. Most of all, I miss Holy Communion; I miss giving Jesus to those hungry to receive him.
I understand why our bishops and leaders made the decisions they’ve made. I’m not questioning the necessity of those decisions. Extreme social distancing, for now, is a necessary evil.
Just the same, like my brother priests everywhere, I miss my people. I long for the day we can gather again, to worship, to listen to the Word of God, to preach and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
Until that day comes, however, I want the men and women I serve to know that they are always with me in thought and prayer, that I’m not letting a day go by without interceding for them before God, and that I could never forget them.
Even more important, I want them to know that God could never forget them. God didn’t forget his people when they wandered in the desert for 40 years. He didn’t forget them when they worshipped idols, ignored his commands, and found themselves exiled in Babylon. And he hasn’t forgotten us now.
Make no mistake: Our Lord does not like being separated from his people in this way. Jesus wants to give himself to us. He wants us to encounter him in the liturgy, in the Church, and in the Eucharist.
And this is where the white ribbons come in.
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