In times like these, where uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure are all around us, we look for leaders. We look for those who know what to do and how to do it: to lead us through the quagmire where we are so vulnerable physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Dr. Brene’ Brown says that vulnerability, that is the presence of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure is the very source of courage. How do ecclesial leaders, just as vulnerable as the rest of us, exercise courage?
There are three skills that church leaders can use in these times to help pastor their vulnerable flocks. They are vision-casting, mindfulness and remembering. This first of three blogs will take a look at vision-casting for right now, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. What’s the vision that church leaders should cast right now, and how might they do that?
The vision is two-fold: that Jesus promised to always be with us through the coming of the Holy Spirit who will continue to guide and teach us and that, despite social distancing, voluntary quarantine, and isolation we belong to a communion of saints, gathered in Christ – a body not bound by time, space or physical constraint. In short, we are not alone in this. We belong to Christ and to one another, even if we cannot give outward sign to that right now.
So, how do leaders cast this vision far and wide? First, communicate these truths in as many ways as possible. The Church gives us a variety of ways to stay connected to Christ outside of the celebration of the sacraments. Now is the time to highlight those avenues of Spirit-nourishment as just that: ways the Spirit will continue to teach, heal, nourish and bind us to Christ. As you go about leading your parishioners into this deeper unity in Christ, do so within this great vision that we are never to be left alone. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  “But I tell you I am going to do what is best for you. This is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you.”  Communicate this staggeringly comforting truth over and over again. Emmanuel: God is with us . And each time you the leader, reiterates this truth, guide the flock into this truth with one of the Church’s gifts of intimacy with the Lord.
- Lectio divina: That sacred reading of the Scripture texts that enables them to embed in both heart and mind, to become a living word.
- Devotional prayer: The Rosary, Stations of the Cross. novenas. Each of these kinds of prayer have the potential to draw you closer to the Lord.
- Music: YouTube is full of sacred songs, praise and worship, sung settings of Gospel stories, and music videos to draw you closer to Christ here and now.
- Meditation and contemplation: This is a perfect time, because you may have more time, to try out either of these practices (or both) to learn to listen for the still small voice of the Lord.
Communicate the second part of the vision far and wide as well. Many are feeling more isolated than usual. Some, like my dad’s wife, are isolated in their adult communities, locked down inside their apartments despite having neighbors just feet away. While the photos on Facebook of loved ones sitting outside care facility windows on the phone with loved ones are very touching, the reality is that for many of us, this cannot happen. So how to help those feeling isolated and those truly isolated to connect to the Lord and one another? By proclaiming the wondrous vision of the Communion of Saints and saints: That great body of believers gone before us and living among us, marked with the sign of faith, able to intercede for us, and companioning us in this struggle with their example, their prayer and their very presence. We are one body in Christ, one universe bound together in Him. So repeat that often and with each repetition, provide concrete ways for your flock to connect to the communion of saints:
- Liturgy of the Hours: Join the faithful around the world in the prayers that mark the hours of the day and know yourself a part of the praying community across the globe.
- Litany of the Saints: Send it along, with a call to join one another in this prayer at a certain time each day.
- Sharing the sanctoral cycle: Every day we remember a saint. Send along the saint, a short biography and a prayer to share. Invite folks to pray each day before their noon meal with the Saint as a sign of unity.
- Tune in to Mass being streamed. Join the presider and all the angels and saints in their unending hymn of joy, for that right praise knows no boundaries or constraints.
- Communicate with the flock and ask them to be in regular communication with each other. It’s fast and relatively free in today’s age. And for those without digital communication, that old fashioned device called a telephone still works…well, in fact!
When you are done sharing the vision clearly and giving folks a way to participate in helping the vision come to pass, remind them of the great privilege we have to be called children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. Remind them of the honor, the privilege, the wonder of it all and let them imagine with you what it will be like when every day is spent in the company of the Lord, all the angels and saints and all the faithful of the Lord giving unending praise to God. Because, the truth is, every day is spent that way for those who follow Jesus now. We just need our leaders to remind us of that truth…to put us in touch with that vision. And now, now more than ever before in my lifetime, it seems these two parts of Jesus’ huge vision of the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven, these need cast far and wide. That’s for leaders to do in order to pastor socially distant people!
 John 14:18
 John 16:7
 Matthew 1:23