It’s Saturday, when I would usually be running out the door to a vigil Mass, but I’m sitting here in my pajamas feeling awkward.
COVID-19 is rocketing through the United States right now, which is terrifying. Sunday Masses have been canceled in many dioceses across the country and around the world. My diocese hasn’t flat out canceled.
My friend Michael Bayer has been compiling a list of dioceses that have cancelled Mass or dispensed the Sunday obligation, and you can see the list here. I can’t guarantee that it’s complete as things are changing by the minute. In my home diocese of Steubenville, the bishop has dispensed the Sunday obligation to go to Mass but is reminding us that Sunday itself remains the Lord’s day, so we should pray at home and refrain from servile work. Several dioceses are providing televised Masses so we can play along at home. We’re encouraged to pray in some fashion.
I, personally, am planning to hold some kind of live video on the Steel Magnificat facebook page so we can all pray together this weekend, obviously not a Mass but just to pray together. I was thinking of praying the Small Paraklesis with you as I’ve been listening to videos of that prayer all day. So, watch my wall for that.
I also want to stress that if you are sick, or if you live with or are caring for a person who is fragile or immunocompromised and don’t want to risk carrying germs, or if you happen to be in a place where the virus is already spreading and you don’t know whether you’re officially dispensed yet but you’re very concerned– in those cases, you don’t need to wait for a bishop’s dispensation at all. Don’t go to Mass. Not only are you exempt from the Sunday obligation, you’re actually not supposed to go. You might get sick and you might make somebody else sick.
If someone is telling you that it’s a sin to not risk your own or somebody else’s life by staying home from Mass, don’t listen to them.
Now, I’m going to tell you about something that actually is a sin.
We in America, or at least here in the part of the United States that I’m from, have been very lucky and blessed for all the years I’ve been alive. We haven’t really had to deal with shortages of basic needs like food or toiletries in the grocery store. There have been poor people who can’t afford to buy them, and I have been that poor before, and I know that not enough attention has been paid to that. But there’s always been a place you could get food, toilet paper and soap if you had the cash. We’re not used to thinking about grocery shopping and stocking up the pantry for ourselves in terms of sins against charity, but it’s time to think like that now.
At the moment, stores can’t keep toilet paper and basic cleaning supplies in stock. People are grabbing all they can get and hoarding them. And in many parts of the country they’re doing the same for food. Everyone is justly concerned that we might be locked down as people are in Italy and some parts of China, and they’re storing up food that won’t spoil in case they’re trapped inside for weeks. At my local Wal Mart yesterday, there was still food to go around, but the shelves in the canned soup section were getting worryingly sparse. My friends in bigger cities where the virus could spread even faster say the stores are completely out of a lot of basic grocery items.
It is understandable and wise to stock your house with groceries right now.
But you have to remember that there are still lower-income people in your community who can only afford to shop when they get paid, pandemic or no. And there are people who just had bad luck and got to the store late.
And “Screw you, I’ve got mine, you should have planned ahead” is never, ever something a Christian is allowed to say. We have to think about our neighbor.
Remember that our father Saint Basil said “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” If you have more than you need and your neighbor has less, you are actually morally required to give your neighbor some of what you have. It’s a sin not to. This is always true and far more important when there’s a widespread panic and shortages.
If you’re still out there shopping right now: please remember that what you do is not morally neutral. It actually is seriously wrong to take a lot more than what you and your family need when there’s a shortage. At bare minimum, obey any rules your supermarket has made rationing toilet paper and bleach right now and don’t try to sneak out more. But also, pray to the Holy Ghost and consider. How many sacks of beans and boxes of pasta does your household actually need? Can you get by with a little less? Can you leave the last box on the shelf for the next person? If so, do.
If you’re at home safely stocked up, please go look at the pantry and the bathroom cupboard. Pray to the Holy Ghost and be honest with yourself. Did you shop wisely or did you panic-shop? Are you sitting on more than you need while others are going without? Have you called your friends and neighbors, particularly old or sick ones who might be afraid to go shopping in the first place, and asked if they have what they need? Can you bring them some toilet paper and Campbell’s soup, or whatever? Then you should. Don’t forget to check food pantries and shelters to see what they need as well.
Being careful is a good thing. Hoarding supplies that other people in the community need to stay alive is a sin. You could potentially kill somebody that way.
Skipping Sunday Mass isn’t a sin just now, depending on your circumstances. Buying that case of toilet paper or dry milk might be. We’re going to have to pray for the gift of prudence and make a careful choice.
That’s not a comfortable thought, I know, but we all need to be thinking.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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