By Father James A. Worth, pastor of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Maplewood, NJ:
The times we are living in right now were definitely not part of anyone’s plans. The news of the coronavirus seemed to be surreal. It can’t happen to us. We put off believing it for as long as we could because, quite frankly, we didn’t want to deal with it. The numbers of sick and deceased people were climbing steadily. Then it hit us. This is definitely real. Now what? We have little to no experience with a global health crisis of this proportion. We were inundated with so many bits of information. We knew one thing for sure, this was not going away on its own any time soon.
We became increasingly aware of the important role of our frontline workers. They instantly became our heroes, and rightly so. Our churches closed their doors, schools were emptied and businesses were shut down. The world seemed to stop in its tracks. It was a time of fear and anxiety. We were uncertain how this was going to play out. The only thing we needed was a vaccine and a therapeutic treatment to stop the increasing number of deaths due to this dreaded virus named COVID-19. This is what the community was seeking. However, as Catholic Christians, we were seeking something more.
We started praying in our homes instead of the sacred buildings where we had grown accustomed to worshipping. Our homes became our churches. Our fellow quarantine companions became our congregation. The priest was with us virtually, and we continued to do what we do best—pray! Everything was different now. We had a choice to make. We would either go with the flow of change or resist it and isolate ourselves from the community. I saw amazing changes.
As a pastor and priest, I have always embraced technology as a way to evangelize and reach out to those on the margins. It also works well with those who have always made going to Mass a priority. In my humble estimation, I felt a greater attachment to my people. I felt their love and support grow in so many ways. My appreciation of them blossomed and allowed my eyes and heart to open to the greater needs of not just our local community but of the world. Facebook provided the platform and for that, I am most grateful.
I wasn’t sure how all of this livestreaming would turn out. But one thing was certain, I knew it was the right thing to do. Now, several months after the first livestreamed Mass, I actually have grown accustomed to this new electronic evangelization. My heart was warmed every time after watching the recorded version later and seeing people interact in the comments section. They would respond to the prayers, they would exchange peace and they were supporting everyone in this new platform of praise. I saw the blessing of bonding and prayerful support deepen, and I am blessed as I continue to witness the amazing changes.
God is good. We have heard that so many times before, but now it takes on an even greater meaning to us today. His love is far reaching and it translates well through this relatively new media approach. People from all over the world have been able to worship in places they could not have gone to before because of distance and circumstances. The global gatherings are the direct result of this pandemic. As Job from the Old Testament praised God in the good times and in the bad times, we, too, join with him as we embrace a closer body of Christ in our midst. We pray for an end to this deadly virus. We pray for the safety of all. Most especially, we pray for the gift of community that was nurtured and maintained via the technology and creativity of our people.
Father James A. Worth is the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Maplewood.