[Editor’s Note: Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, where she directs the Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society. She’s also a nationally syndicated columnist, frequent contributor to Catholic and other publications, and author of the book A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is chair of Cardinal Dolan’s Pro-Life Commission in New York. She spoke to Charles Camosy.]
Camosy: You wrote the afterward for a book by Cardinal Timothy Dolan called I am With You: Lessons of Hope and Courage in Times of Crisis. Why was that important to you to do?
The book is a collection of homilies and writing from during last year’s shutdown. I will be the first to admit, I did not do well during that time. I’m not proud of it – actually a bit embarrassed. But it was a great time of appreciating my poverty and my need for people and Jesus Christ in the sacraments of the Church. And, well, those homilies were a lifeline to me, along with the Liturgy of the Hours, and friends who wouldn’t let me fall into a deeper depression than I was in. I’d log on to those irritating virtual Masses and encounter a good spiritual father in Cardinal Dolan. I was and am grateful.
I’m also grateful that he’s been upfront that things may have closed too soon and certainly stayed closed too long. Religion is essential. That’s part of the message of the book. And it’s why I’m a little evangelist for it. We’re in terrible danger of taking the wrong lessons from the Coronavirus pandemic and shutdowns. We have a moment of transition now. Are lives are about Jesus Christ, not so many of the distractions we fall into as we can be about busyness and material success and productivity and forget about Him and His Most Sacred Heart.
My little suffering was nothing compared to people who lost loved ones they could not properly say goodbye to or grieve. It’s nothing compared to the trauma hospital workers endured. We know that so many young people seriously considered killing themselves around this time last year. As we make this transition we seem to be making back to “normal,” this book is a bit of a retreat we need.
And one other thing: Our bishops make the news over all sorts of controversial things. In I Am With You: Lessons of Hope and Courage in Times of Crisis, we see Cardinal Dolan being the pastor he is. He makes good use of social media reintroducing the faith. We need a Religion Is Essential moment and come to Jesus, quite literally. This small collection helps show the way.
By the way, for those interested, Cardinal Dolan talked about the book with me on St. Joseph’s day. You can watch it here.
From your perspective, why was that shutdown period so hard?
Let me begin by saying: It was, of course, hardest for those who lost someone to the virus or anything else around that time. And the blessed frontline workers. Even the cashiers and everyone else who had to work and may have been absolutely terrified about what was going on and what the threat level was.
Back to my isolation experience, because I know I’m not alone and I think it’s important to reflect on these things – on what is essential – to move forward: There was a beautiful priest one day who, after consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist – the microphone picked up his chewing – said, before or after the Prayer for Spiritual Communion: Your desire for the Blessed Sacrament needs to grow. Jesus is stretching your heart so you want Him more. I lost it. Weeping, yelling at my laptop. The poor priest. He was hundreds of miles away, but maybe he heard me! Some priests were in pain not being able to minister. You got that sense from Cardinal Dolan, for sure. But others have confessed (not sacramentally!) that they didn’t realize. The Real Presence is not only real, but sustaining. I don’t want to have to go through life without it. Cardinal Dolan’s I Am With You is a needed mediation on what we’ve been through. I frankly want a national retreat before we go forward anymore!
You and I are on Cardinal Dolan’s Pro-Life Commission together and so we’re both aware and grateful for a short pastoral letter he issued on the Feast of St. Joseph on end-of-life issues.
How does the cardinal’s pastoral letter tie to the book?
My heart goes out to the people who worked in nursing homes and hospitals and tried their best in such harrowing circumstances. A virus on the loose, people dying, families yelling at you. But we also know that there were some grave misfires. The lack of concern for any kind of real reflection on this is scandalous. You and I have talked about the need for a rethink of how we care – or don’t care – for our elderly. Families have all kinds of challenges, and sometimes the medical concerns require help, but the warehousing, essential, of older men and women shouldn’t be.
The one upside of the Obama administration making the Little Sisters of the Poor go to the Supreme Court is that I think more people are aware of them now and their work with the elderly poor, loving them, helping them flourish. I’ve visited the Little Sisters place in D.C. over by my alma mater, the Catholic University of America. It’s a home filled with quiet mystics! They spend their days praying for their children and grandchildren who have left the faith – what a powerhouse! Anyway, young/younger people have this temptation to do and think their ideas and success are of priority. How about sitting down and listening a little and loving?
This coronavirus experience could have brought us to the humble realization that we are all going to die, that we are universally vulnerable, and ought to love one another better/well. But we seem to want to get back to “normal.” To hell with that! Back to the old bad habits and ways of life? I’m heartened by workplaces that are considering keeping some of the working from home going forward. Do we really need everyone in the office every day? For some jobs, of course. But for the ones that did fine, relatively speaking, during the shutdowns? You might just have more productive workers if they get to have dinner with their children daily. This, again, is why we need to stop and pray in reflection before we go forward. And that pastoral letter gives some perspective on moving forward to protect life and love better.
There is enough bad preaching to go around today — but you get the benefit of listening to Cardinal Dolan’s homilies. Do you have a favorite in the shutdown collection?
March 16, Monday Mass, maybe. Although it would be hard to really use “favorite.” I appreciated the rhythm of the Church calendar year in a new way during shutdown. I could feel myself being lifted up by the wisdom of Church as mother. In the Liturgy of the Hours, it helps that you can never get away from the Psalms – and every human emotion is in them!
But back to March 16. Cardinal Dolan said:
We are consoled by the truth of our Catholic faith: the greatest of all prayers, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is so awesome that it goes beyond space and time. Anywhere we are—at home, on the road, in a hospital bed, or in those happy days when we could gather at our parishes in person—we can still unite ourselves to the Mass. It is the infinite, eternal sacrifice of praise, atonement, supplication, thanksgiving, and petition—the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.
The Mass always continues. Always and everywhere. With an act of faith, we are absorbed into that magnificent prayer of Jesus on His cross that is renewed at every Mass.
That helped me.
Are there any homilies you would direct people to as timely right now?
He has one he titled “Be Not Afraid.” Again, a weekday Mass. He said:
Crises help us to recover the basics we have ignored. In Catholic life, what is most essential is Jesus, our faith and trust in Him. Another basic belief is that one of the most powerful ways that Jesus remains with us is in the Holy Eucharist – Mass and Holy Communion.
Later on, in that homily, he said: “For us as Catholics, a recovered faith means cherishing anew the sacraments.”
And he closed by saying: “For now…we can rejoice in the swelling chorus of people chanting throughout the planet, “We want Mass! We need the sacraments! We love them! We miss them!” That should have been a John Paul II Poland kind of moment, but how many are simply out of the habit? Run to Jesus. Run.
Now that they are available again, are we making sure those churches are filled and the Confession lines are long? For priests who truly love the priesthood, the shutdowns were hard. The best gift we could give them besides prayer, is not making them read in the Confessional, but do Jesus’ most merciful work!
Any final thoughts for Crux readers as we head into summer?
Summer is traditionally a time for refreshment. Take a retreat. Even if you can’t go to a retreat house, visit a shrine, make a little pilgrimage. Even if it’s a few afternoons in a Eucharistic adoration chapel. Or, honestly, use the I Am With You book to get a conversation going among friends – or in your parish – about what we just lived through and where God was in it. We can’t move forward without reflecting to go forward in hope and courage, as Cardinal Dolan has it in the extended title of the book.
And before we go, it is the year of St. Joseph, and we need protection. He’s a great intercessor, and I think that pastoral letter from Cardinal Dolan ties together neatly with the book and with the threats we are facing in our throwaway society, as you’ve written well about.