You might have noticed that this issue of Catholic New York is dated Dec. 31, 2020. That’s right, the last day of a year that has challenged us like no other. It’s almost a cliché at this point to wish away 2020 and hope for better days ahead. I mean, next year can’t be any worse, right?
Well, that’s one way to look at our present circumstances. We may be right in the middle of the second surge of the coronavirus pandemic here in New York and throughout the United States. The death toll as of Monday morning was a staggering 333,000 across the nation, and 37,000 in New York, which remains the highest among the 50 state figures.
The number of U.S. Covid-19 cases is now more than 19 million. For weeks and weeks, especially at the outset in March and April when we were all inside our homes almost all the time, they were a chilling reminder of the devastation the virus was exacting in our personal and family lives and across our society. As we all know, each person who dies is much more than just a number. They are someone’s mother or father, grandfather or grandmother, or daughter or son. They are missed each day by those who knew and loved them and who now must carry on in their absence.
In this last month of 2020, a vaccine to offer protection from the coronavirus has begun to be distributed in the United States and in other nations. It promises to be largely effective in safeguarding those who receive the required doses. The rollout will not be immediate, but rather will take months to reach the entire population. Still, it is a cause for hope.
As we wait, I wonder where else we will look to find hope as the calendar turns to 2021. Thinking about that this past weekend, I remembered back to when Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States in April 2008. Do you happen to remember the words used to sum up that apostolic visit? Well, they were Christ Our Hope. It was at the heart of what the Church is about.
Hope, along with faith and love, are theological virtues. Without getting too deep here, they are cited both in Scripture (First Corinthians) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
My simple thought is that the Church is offering much reason for hope these days. Let me cite a few examples I have experienced or witnessed over the past several months.
One thing would be the simple act of gathering for Mass, normally taken for granted in the parishes of New York and elsewhere, but not so during the first months of the pandemic when in-person gatherings of more than a few people were not permitted in churches. Anyone who asks soon learns I view attending Mass as a key to keeping on track spiritually by peacefully worshipping with other like-minded Catholics and being open to listening to what the Lord has to say to me. It was great when we were allowed back for Sunday Masses, and even better last week when we could gather for Christmas Mass.
Then there have been the excellent homilies at Masses, in many cases infusing personal experiences from the pandemic with the day’s Scriptures. I’ve heard more consistently good homilies in the last six months than at any time I can remember. Those homilies provide fuel for the journey ahead, especially in difficult times.
I’ll add one more Church mission that extends beyond the physical church buildings, and that is the tireless work of archdiocesan Catholic Charities in reaching out to others in the community with food distribution, mental health services and many other outreach programs. We’ve covered a lot of these services in recent months, and it makes me proud to show how the Church in New York is responding to the real human needs of our neighbors.