During this time of lockdown and quarantine it has been difficult to stay positive and not be discouraged. One of the greatest challenges, in addition to not being able to attend Mass, has been the separation from family and loved ones. We are relational, made for community, and this social part of us has been longing for a return to normalcy. As helpful as it can be to see friends and loved ones via Zoom, nothing replaces the personal interaction that our hearts long for.
Facing these challenges, there are a number of creative ways people have come up with to try and adapt to this new reality. One of the most common innovations is referred to by some as “drive-by” birthday parties. For those unfamiliar with this, it is when, in the absence of a birthday party, family and loved ones drive by the house of the person celebrating a birthday as they honk their horns and shout to show their affection for the one celebrating. This has become a common occurrence in the neighborhood where I live and I know that it is happening in many other places as well.
A month ago we had our own version of this. At the parish where I am in residence, we have an older priest who this year celebrated his 58th anniversary of ordination. Some in the parish decided to honor this milestone by organizing a “drive-by” anniversary celebration. So on a beautiful afternoon in early May all the priests gathered in front of the rectory as the cars began to come by to celebrate their beloved Father Sal. With the sound of an air horn, the procession of vehicles started. Many of the cars had entire families in them calling out and wishing a happy anniversary. Others had signs made, which they held up as they passed. When it was all over, 120 cars had come and nearly half an hour had gone by.
The outpouring of love and respect for Father Sal was beautiful. It was a great boost for all of us there as well to see how much the people love their priests and wanted to support us and let us know that they are praying for us. This is such a powerful reminder of how much the people of God really do care for us and that as long as we are faithful to the calling we have received we can hopefully prove ourselves worthy of their concern and support. At a time of the year when so many of us celebrate our anniversary, it is a great blessing to recall that we are ordained to serve and that when this is done with care and devotion those we minister to are spiritually strengthened and edified.
It is difficult to find a silver lining in the midst of this crisis, but perhaps one is the greater appreciation we have for each other, both the clergy and the faithful, as we are separated. As much as the people of God miss coming to Mass and receiving the sacraments, we priests miss being able to minister to those that come to the church seeking to be in contact with the Lord and His grace.
This hunger for the Eucharist is in the hearts of many Catholics and it profoundly affects those that are discerning a call to the priesthood as well. The men who are seeking to understand what the Lord is drawing them to are seeing the spiritual anguish this period of separation is causing both themselves and those around them. They are also seeing the renewed appreciation the clergy and the faithful have for each other.
This mutual love and respect for the priests and their people was shown so beautifully on that early day in May with the joyful shouts of the parishioners and the smile on the face of an older priest who has given his life to the ones Christ had called him to serve.