I am filled with joy when I call to mind beautiful faces of all the babies I baptized and of the loving parents who have allowed me to present their child to our faith community. I recall the little children who received their First Communion from me. I have so many pictures of me standing behind the First Communicants in their white outfits and with their smiling faces. I remember the many young people whose Confirmations I have witnessed and how proud I was of them as they were initiated fully into the church. Yes Easter is the time when those sacraments of initiation are so often received. This year as we deal with the coronavirus the reception of those sacraments have been put on hold until it is safe to gather again to celebrate together in church. As we await that day we continue to hold all those who are preparing to receive sacraments in our prayers.
As I reflect on my years as a priest I also remember with joy the many couples at whose weddings I presided, as they began their new life together. This year many couples have had to postpone their wedding dates because of the coronavirus and are trying to set new dates for their wedding day. Some have already rescheduled and are now probable praying that things will be opened up by the time they reach their new wedding date. It is my prayer for them as well. It is our hope though that God’s peace will be with them to remove all anxiety and stress.
I cannot tell you how many funerals I have presided at through the years. In this current crisis I know it is so very hard not to be able to celebrate Funeral Masses and mourn in the way that we are accustomed. The Rite of Christian Burial of our church celebrates the Paschal Mystery of Christ and gives us the hope that our loved one will rise with Him. As we pray for those who have recently died we pray as well for their families in mourning and await with hope the day we can celebrate Memorial Masses for those who have died during this time of crisis. In our parish we lift up in prayer Norbert Schmitt and Ruth Wood who have died and we pray for their families in their time of mourning.
In my years as a priest I have buried many people through the years, some I didn’t know others were parishioners and friends who were close to me. I have seen the deaths of family members, my Grandmother, my Godmother and my nephew Travis in 1993, two of my cousins, my Mother in 2002 and my Father in 2010 and all of my parents’ siblings and their spouses through the years and most recently the death of my Great-Grand-Niece Addison. But with the pain I have felt with each death, I have been strengthened by my trust and hope in the Mystery of the Resurrection, that when we die with Christ we will also rise with Him to eternal life.
During my time as a priest I have lived through many times of crisis with the people of my parishes. Some like the destruction and death of 9/11/2001 impacted our whole nation and our world. Other events like the floods in the southern tier in 2005, 2006 and 2011 affected my parish and the surrounding regions. But, through all those events people helped each other to rise up again, by neighbor helping neighbor and by strangers working side by side to rebuilt and start over again. In this present time of crisis we might not be able to offer hands on help as we practice social distancing, but we can pray for one another, we can check on our neighbors by phone, we can support the local food pantries with donations to help feed those in need, we can help protect one another by wearing face masks in public and practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. We might be facing even more difficult times before things get better, but if there is one thing that I have learned in my 38 years as a priest is that when we place our trust in the Lord, He will be with us in the midst of our trials and raise us up to a newness of Life in Him. God’s blessings and peace, Father Bill