I have struggled all my life with wanting too much to rely on good intentions; you know when you mean well, but don’t do well, don’t follow through on good intentions. But the pandemic has given me time and anguish to remember how important good intentions are, if we are to build something that is of the good, or better said perhaps, Godly. This building, this doing must start with good, true proper intentions.
St. Catherine’s, me as pastor, and my staff have chosen to be careful, during the pandemic. We chose to put the health and safety of vulnerable parishioners and community members first, to protect the health care system and health care workers from being overrun and overwhelmed by Covid 19. We were able, to my knowledge, not to spread the virus here at SCL. At the same time, I along with my staff and the leadership and teachers and staff of our day school and PSR program put the educational/psychological needs of our children first, and so found a way to have in person classes 5 days a week for our school families. Our teachers and families were courageous putting commitment to safety for all first, a willing curtailment of individual choice for the greater good, and though not flawlessly, it worked. The good guided the community and lasting good was accomplished. So, I contend that our intentions throughout were good, even though you might have disagreed with our choices.
Fr. Charlie and I have buried Covid 19 victims over these last many months. Mostly they were older, older people who were fully alive until infected. We know personally the grief that flows from those lives lost too soon. This pandemic wasn’t a news story, it is and continues to be something personal for our parish. I am nearly certain that the privations and limitations it imposed on our parish mission and function will have lasting effect, likely taking years for full recovery.
Some parishioners have disagreed with our careful approach, wondered if we trusted God. Then throw in 2020 politics and there were searing disagreements; throw in lies and misinformation and the result is growing confusion. I may not be humble, but I do know that I am not prescient, all knowing, fully cognizant of all factors, nor without bias. I am not without my shortsightedness; I am not free from acting based on fear and emotion. And so, know that I am not suggesting we universally got it right. However, I am declaring that our intentions were good, about protecting life, about choosing self-sacrifice for the common good over individual choice, about learning how faith overcomes even pestilence, when it informs our prayer and thinking and choices. Our intentions, if not all our choices, were good right and true. And know too, that I assume and accept the goodness of your intentions. Just as much as I need you to know of ours, so you too need to know that I/we honor and reverence what is good in your commitment to live out our baptismal call, to embrace the power of the cross, the challenge of gospel truth. Our lives of faith are a work in progress, we go to God together.
I have consistently been a proponent of vaccination. I grew up in the 1950’s in a household guided by a trusted pediatrician, Dr. Donlan, where vaccination was always chosen to protect first from polio, then mumps and measles, rubella etc. etc. Encouraged by my personal physicians I annually get the flu shot. It is for me the ordinary way in our developed world to ensure and protect the health and safety of our community and myself. And so once again I take this opportunity to urge and implore those not vaccinated who are able to receive the vaccine, to consult with trusted health care professionals about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines for Covid 19, and then for the good of your health and life, the health of our community, the stability of our schools and economy and our parish, get vaccinated.
I know some have qualms: was the vaccine developed immorally? The leadership of the church, our Archbishop along with most other bishops and the Pope have judged the answer is no. How could it be developed so quickly? The need was worldwide and great, and the resources needed were abundantly provided, the scientific community worked in overdrive. What might have taken years was accomplished in months without corners being cut. Yes, it is still “experimental”, and I am aware it is not without negative side effects, but overwhelmingly, the preponderance of evidence proves it is the prudent and wise choice which is the way that leads us out the scourge of the pandemic.
As our state now leads the nation in new Covid cases per capita for hospitalizations, the data shows that almost universally those hospitalized or deceased now from Covid 19 are those who are unvaccinated. This is what drives me to urge you. I know there is risk/reward calculation that everyone must do, is the reward greater than the risk? The benefits for me and us greater than the possible negative side effects? How likely are these side effects experienced among all who are vaccinated? But I would like to add something to these calculations, it comes from our morality around the value of life. What is the moral responsibility for an individual who allows doubts and fears to predominate and so knowingly risks serious illness and death? If you are a spouse, what do you owe your spouse? A parent, your children? A young person, your future or your elders or your community? It is my hope this broadens your choosing, and reminds of the grave consequence in not vaccinating, in choosing by inaction, that which might lead to possible long-term illness, to prolonging the spread of the virus especially to those medically unable to be vaccinated, to even to death? This choice I’m suggesting is not just a personal choice, it is that, but it carries along with it a moral choice, a choice involving all of us. So again, I implore, do the necessary work of clearly and prudently considering what is best for you and us as we pray and live and build God’s kingdom together.
My God this is long, and surely a bit defensive. But as we reopen, as you are encouraged to return to worship and reengage in the life of the parish, I want to make the case that it is precisely because of good and right intentions, yours and ours, that for the love of God and love of our parish we can find the common ground so that we can rebuild, build anew, making SCL what it always has been: a good parish getting better. Stay healthy, holy, happy. Fr. Jim