By ARCHBISHOP HARTMAYER, OFM Conv. | Published September 3, 2021 | En Español
Just as we were beginning to think we were turning a corner in this horrible pandemic, which has claimed more than four million lives worldwide, we find the virus has mutated and continues to infect our homes, communities, schools and churches. COVID has been a sobering experience for us all.
At times, we have found ourselves feeling helpless in the face of something invisible, elusive and deadly. As I reflect upon this helpless feeling, I am reminded of the Gospel reading from a few weeks ago about the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Every time I read this story, I am struck by the generosity of the young boy, who amidst the doubt of the disciples offers what little he has—five barley loaves and two fish.
How could so little food feed such a vast multitude? We see that the boy was not focused on what little he had; instead, he sacrificed what he could and trusted in God to make up the rest.
The current pandemic has brought out some of the best of humanity. Our ingenuity, resilience and fortitude have been on full display. However, the stress and fear brought about by this virus has brought to light great division. This division has taken hold of our culture, our politics and sadly, even our church.
I have heard the concerns of some of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Atlanta regarding the COVID-19 vaccines and mask regulations. These concerns are understandable, as this situation has been rapidly changing and we continue to find ourselves in uncharted territory. It is my hope that in the midst of the confusion, fear and stress we do not lose sight of our Christian call to love and care for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We have an opportunity during this time to reinforce what Christ said about his followers: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Additionally, we have the opportunity to imitate the young boy with the barley loaves and fish, to make sacrifices to help others in this difficult situation and to do so out of love for our neighbor.
As a church, we respond to this call to love one another when we work to protect life from its earliest conception until natural death. We work diligently in our call to protect life because of the call of Christ, to love and protect those who are most vulnerable—the unborn, the elderly, the sick and the dying. While we know the call to protect a child in her mother’s womb is of the utmost importance, we also know this call encompasses speaking out against euthanasia, capital punishment, human trafficking and addressing poverty and any situation that contradicts human dignity. As Christians, we are called to protect the sanctity of human life in all forms, places and situations.
The pandemic has placed us in a situation in which we have been asked to protect the vulnerable by self-isolating when necessary, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. All of us are exhausted and worn thin by the difficulties we have endured during the last year and a half, and now we see another rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the Delta variant. For some of you, it may feel as though we have reached a breaking point, not knowing how much more we can take.
As your shepherd, I encourage all of us to remain patient and steadfast, placing our trust placed firmly in the Lord. We are reminded in Romans 8:28 that God brings good out of every situation. While we pray for the souls of those we have tragically lost to COVID-19 and those who are sick, we trust that God can bring good even out of this terrible situation.
Let us consider the young boy with the barley loaves and fish, and ask ourselves what it is we can offer or sacrifice to help end this as quickly as possible. Let us be about the work of protecting the lives of those around us and take action towards the common good. This may mean being vaccinated, wearing a mask when asked to do so, or even self-isolating if the need arises. These acts are much like the act of the boy, who thought not of himself but of the common good when he came forward with a few loaves and some fish. He trusted that God would take that offering and bring something greater out of it.
Understanding the moral concerns of the production of certain vaccines, I echo my brother bishops who have stated, “if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”
I have received a vaccine, and I encourage you to get yours unless you have a medical reason not to do so.
Let us all make efforts out of love and respect for life to protect ourselves, the vulnerable and our neighbor from this virus and do what we can to end this pandemic. Receiving the vaccine, wearing a mask when necessary and self-isolating can be pro-life actions, or acts of charity that serve the common good.
Lastly, I invite you to join me in turning to St. Joseph, who is the protector of the family and the church. May St. Joseph intercede for us and protect us during this troubling and difficult time, and may he help us to be ever wise and prudent with difficult decisions. Please pray for me, and know that I pray daily for you. May God bless you and your families.
For the USCCB statement on vaccinations, go to https://bit.ly/3AXhXoH.