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Church Current Events Reflections

If I Were A Bishop During COVID

In a pretend world, if I was the abbot of the territorial abbey of Krafton (known by the locals as Krafton Abbey) and had the responsibility for a group of the faithful, as a bishop does for his diocese, I would write a letter like this to them.

Pʀᴀɪsᴇ ʙᴇ ᴛᴏ Jᴇsᴜs Cʜʀɪsᴛ…

Dear sisters and brothers!

When Our Savior walked amongst us, He healed the sick and instructed us to care for the sick as well. During the last 14 months, we have not only been asked to care for the sick but to help take care of the healthy, to ensure that we nor those amongst us get sick as well.

It has been a long road.

This has been a difficult and trying time for our Diocese, our Church, our cities, counties, state, country, and the world. I, first, wish to thank you for the extraordinary efforts we have seen since the beginning of this pandemic. We have completely transformed our day-to-day life with no person exempted. We have foregone worship, recreation, work. We have lost jobs and struggled to make ends meet. We have gone out of our way to help our neighbors through direct assistance, donations, patronizing local businesses, and more. Our health care workers have stepped up in a way I never hope is needed again. Our community has volunteered with public health officials to support increased testing, vaccination sites, and outreach efforts.

This is no small feat and we should take a moment to reflect that we are living in a time where we, as a community, must work together in ways not seen for a long time.

While we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the tunnel.

As much as I pray for the end of this pandemic, we are still in the midst of it. We have made progress through refined understanding of the virus, how to mitigate and reduce the risks of transmission and infection, how to better treat those who are infected, and how to vaccinate against it.

This progress is a challenge, too. I am tired of the pandemic. I know many of you are and have been for awhile. As we learn more and are better able to resume the activities of life, there is the feeling that “we’re done” or “we’re past that now”.

Sadly, my sisters and brothers, that is not true. Yes, we’re further along the road than we have ever been before during this pandemic, but we’re still on the journey. We still have new cases daily in Austin higher than we saw a year ago. While Texas is doing better right now, we’re still seeing other states having upswings. And, of course, we must continue to pray and grieve with our Indian brothers and sisters who are currently in a horrific situation in their own country with almost 400,000 averaged new cases a day when a month ago it had never been above 100,000 averaged new cases a day.

While, here in Texas, we can continue to take steps forward, we cannot act as if the pandemic never existed or is over.

We are the Church of faith and reason.

St. Pope John Paul II wrote in the opening of his encyclical Fides et Ratio that:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves

As a Church, we know that faith and reason are intimately related!

“The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason ‘mutually support each other’; each influences the other, as they offer to each other a purifying critique and a stimulus to pursue the search for deeper understanding.” (Fides et Ratio, 100)

Even renowned atheist Stephen Hawking was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences! Why? Because to better understand the Creator—God—and the creation—our universe all the way down to us individually, we must seek out and explore new knowledge. Trusting science to reveal what science reveals while using our faith to guide that pursuit aligned with what science can not reveal.

In today’s context, we have to embrace the scientific and medical communities working tirelessly to better understand this virus, what it does, how to mitigate it, and how to stop it. The Church joins with public health officials to help the world navigate these uncertain waters.

In other words, we must work with hand-in-hand with the best experts to get through this pandemic.

How do we continue to mitigate?

We have learned a lot in the last year when all public Masses were suspended. We are not in a position to even consider that. The Church also affirms that the manifestation of the spiritual life is an essential human right. We are part of the local community and do need to heed public health demands.

One of the many ways to explain the mitigation approach is the “swiss cheese” idea. Every single type of mitigation has gaps, or holes, like swiss cheese. But, if we layer various forms of mitigation, we substantially reduce the transmission risks to where we can return to normal or near-normal activities.

Again, the point of all these mitigation efforts is to restore normalcy.

To that end, I will decree that all Catholic institutions implement protocols and policies that align with the spirit of guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and from public health officials.

I will address broad themes here. More particular details, that will be updated as this pandemic continues to evolve, will in an accompanying decree.

In-Person Attendance

Generally, obligation to attend events in-person is dispensed. For parish ministries, including religious education, an option should exist for virtual access. This doesn’t mean one-size fits all.

For example, children should have virtual access to religious formation. I understand that this is a heavy burden for a lot of parishes if they are opting to also do in-person opportunities. Within each deanery, parishes can join together to provide a singular virtual or singular in-person option to help spread the load of dual-formats.

The Sunday Obligation and Mass

The Sunday obligation remains, but can be fulfilled broadly:

  • Attendance at Mass in-person.
  • Praying along with Mass in any form (radio, television, live stream) for that Sunday, recorded or in real-time.
  • Praying the Readings for the day and sincerely reflecting upon them.
  • A major hour of the Liturgy of the Hours: Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Office of Readings in a solemn way.

I ask everyone to worship the Lord on Sunday in a way that matches your current situation. If everyone in your household is vaccinated and you’re comfortable with a more normal life routine, please come back to Mass. If your home includes those who are not yet vaccinated, pray with your family from home.

Every time I lift my eyes to heaven, I pray for an end of this pandemic, or at least for it to evolve to where we can be “near normal” soon. We miss you. The Church loves you. I love you. As much as I want us to join together as we did before 2020, the Church realizes that, as we’ve done over our 2000-year history, we sometimes have to exist outside of the ideal. I think of the Early Christians who had to meet in secret in homes to avoid being martyred. I think of the Japanese Christians who had to go into hiding and persisted hundreds of years without a priest. What we’re asking is nothing like what our ancestors had to endure.

Virtual Mass is not ideal. Sacraments can never be conveyed virtually. They require presence. They require physical action. I admit that attending Mass, the time in which we worship the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist while we are, in fact, not present is awkward.

As the primary meeting time of the community, a time to hear and reflect on the Word of God with a homily, I ask that parishes continue to provide a virtual Mass option. That said, I also ask that parishes offer other liturgical options that exist in our faith tradition as well. I encourage Deaneries to work together to offer more ways for the faithful to pray liturgically while away without the duplication of effort or adding an undue burden on any particular parish.

For my part, I will be livestreaming Vespers I (that is, Saturday Evening Prayer as we begin our liturgical Sunday).

Masks

Wearing face coverings has been shown to be the relatively easiest way to make a sizeable reduction of transmission of Covid. As this virus is primarily transmitted via droplets, the vast majority of types of face coverings provide some benefit.

Generally speaking, masks will be required while on Church grounds. Exceptions, such as age, medical exemptions, staff working in a private office or very small meetings with all parties vaccinated, will be noted in the coming decree.

Additionally, I ask that we all act with charity. We do not know why any particular person is wearing or not wearing a mask at any particular moment. Any enforcement or questioning regarding this is for our pastors or their delegated staff members. In other words, please don’t shame each other either way.

While masks aren’t enjoyable, it is a relatively small corporal work of mercy toward our broader community. If you don’t want to wear a mask because of the inconvenience, let us join these small penances together as an offering toward the Lord who innocently suffered so much for us.

Vaccines

In accordance with announcements from the Holy Father and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we have found it is morally acceptable to receive any available vaccine for Covid-19. The USCCB, through joint work from the Doctrine and Pro-Life Committees, have noted that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are preferable over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In Catholic teaching, there is a concept of “cooperation in evil”. In an ideal and perfect world, we would never at all cooperate with any form of evil or sinfulness in any way anywhere. However, there are situations where we have to look at the level of cooperation between the evil act and the act we’re trying to judge.

In full transparency, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed, in part, by research done on fetal cells acquired through an abortion decades ago. The abortion was not procured for the sake of research, but, as a secondary by-product of the horrible instance of abortion, fetal cells were acquired.

For the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, fetal cells, acquired the same way, were used as part of the production process.

In both cases, that Holy Father, the Vatican, and the USCCB all agree that the connection between us and the abortion is so remote, that there is no guilt associated when there is a proportionately serious reason. Covid 19 and the severe impact it has had on our communities, our nation, and our world qualifies.

Given the above, if you have an option, aim for the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. But, all three are morally acceptable if that is the dose you’re able to get.

Vaccines are our ticket back to normalcy. Vaccines are shown to provide better immunity than natural immunity (e.g. already catching Covid), the side effects are minimal, and their effectiveness is very high.

I strongly encourage all Catholics to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. For those who have any health concerns, please contact your doctor and follow their advice.

To that end, all parishes should make themselves available to the local health department to assist in any way possible in the vaccination campaign. This could include, but is not limited to, having flyers with vaccine information, host public health experts to be available following Masses, host vaccination sites at no cost to the health department (please contact me if there are any issues with this).

In short, I bind all of us to do what we can to help.

Other Mitigations

I repeat from earlier that all institutions should have a mitigation plan that implements protocols and policies that align with the spirit of guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and from public health officials.

If any institution has questions, concerns, or needs assistance in any way, please contact me directly.

As faith leaders and faithful Catholics, we are the “experts” in the spiritual life. Our public health officials are the experts in public health. Let us “lean into” that expertise and use it for the betterment of all.

We are close.

I thank God every day that the situation locally is moving forward. I pray often for those around the world who are not. As we continue to move ahead as a community of faith, let us not be “blinded by the light at the end of the tunnel”, but walk forward fully aware of the current realities with confidence that, by the will and help of God, we will complete this time of difficulty soon.

…Nᴏᴡ ᴀɴᴅ ғᴏʀᴇᴠᴇʀ.

Categories
Current Events Reflections

26 Years Later

26 years ago, I was sitting in Mrs. Wilson’s 5th Grade science class when a classmate across the lab bench from me asked if I heard about the bombing in Oklahoma City.

At the time, I thought she probably didn’t know what she was talking about or, at least, it was a “small bomb”, whatever that means to a 5th grader. In 1995, I had heard about suicide bombers overseas, but they never seemed to be that big.

But, of course, she was correct. The Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, two hours away, was destroyed by a homegrown, fanatic terrorist, who was convinced that the Government was out to destroy American freedom.

Six years later, 9/11 overshadowed Oklahoma City and, I think, as a country, we’ve forgotten about it. Looking right now, none of the major cable news sites or the major national newspapers mention it on their homepage. Of the sites I search, the New York Times did share a video of AG Garland speaking at a service today. But that’s it.

After the storming of the Capitol earlier this year, the idea of homegrown terrorism being one of the top homeland security concerns is fresh in my mind.

These things are linked together. The Capitol events on January 6th were shocking, but Oklahoma City was a whole other level. If we forget what Americans can do when they fall completely into the mindset of “the government is the problem and they’re coming to take away everything”, we’re going to see something very bad.

Our government works best when we all come to the table together and legitimately work together. Yes, we have different opinions and there are different parties, but we must be able to hammer out something that we all can live with.

The Oklahoma City Memorial is beautiful and heartbreaking. There is an Empty Chair for everyone who died in the bombing, positioned roughly to show where they were when they died. 19 of the chairs are small. 19 babies and children died, as there was a day care in the building. The award-winning photograph of a firefighter carrying a dying baby out should be a sober reminder of the depths of evil we can sink to when we don’t see each other as people, but as Others that are trying to attack us.

26 years later, let’s pause and remember those who died this day and do whatever we can do ensure we are not fanning the flames for it to happen again.

Categories
Food

Happy National Beer Day

In the United States, today is National Beer Day! Today in 1933, beer became legal again during the tail end of 18th Amendment prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

What’s interesting is that the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th, was not effective until December 1933, so why is today a day?

On this date, the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect. The 18th Amendment was functionally enacted by the Volstead Act in 1919, which defined “intoxicating” anything with 0.5% alcohol. Which is just about anything that ever thought about a beer.

The Cullen-Harrison Act, under the authority of the 18th Amendment, changed the definition of “intoxicating” to anything higher than 3.2% alcohol-by-weight so it could be legally sold and consumed under the Federal law, presuming states allowed it. Almost nothing we see in stores today would qualify, but in 1933, 1.5 million barrels were consumed on April 7, 1933 to celebrate.

If you’re one to have a beer every now or then, today isn’t a bad day to raise a glass.

Categories
WordPress

Support Rotation

At Automattic, after being hired, your first two weeks on the job is working with our Happiness teams to directly support customers. For engineers or designers, it gives you a taste of who we’re building this for. For other roles, it is a reminder that we’re all contributing toward the success of our customers in their mission to publish, to sell, to teach, or whathaveyou.

After that, we take a week a year in some form—a fully week, five days spread out over the year, whatever works for your team—to go back to Happiness to work with our customers directly again.

I spent my first five years at Automattic within Happiness so I had a lot of interaction directly with our customers, but after swimming over to the engineering side 100%, it is time again for my annual support rotation.

For a lot of non-Happiness folks, the idea of jumping back into direct support can be a bit scary. Happiness folks have to know everything about the product. Engineers just need to know their portion and lightly keep up with what other teams are doing. Customers come up with the most bizarre issues sometimes and you can’t just say “wow, that’s messed up.”

In actuality, the Happiness teams at Automattic are extremely supportive folks to their non-Happiness teammates who join them during the rotations. Happiness Engineers are helpful and supportive to the folks contacting us, but internally, they are also some of the most selfless, helpful folks in the company.

If you’re a customer of WordPress.com or Jetpack, feel free to reach out and say hello. We usually hear from the folks having problems, but if you want to write in just to say everything is working fine, that’s okay too. 😀

Categories
Reflections

The Longest Lent

Holy Saturday is perhaps one of my favorite days of the liturgical year. The cruelty of Good Friday is past us and we’re in this holding pattern. We do have faith that Easter is coming, but it isn’t here yet. Isn’t that where we are now? We have faith that Jesus will return, but not yet. The major difference is we know that the Easter Vigil will start after sundown and we’re a bit clueless on the second coming.

This year it takes another meaning for me. Yesterday, I received my second COVID-19 vaccination dose. Our communal Lent—not as a faith community, but as a global community—started for most of us around the same time as Lent 2020. While the majority of the world is still awaiting vaccinations and in the midst of surges, lockdowns of some sort, and the like, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

For me, I’m feeling pretty out of it today. It’s the most common side-effect: a day of flu-like aches and soreness for a day. While the overall road is still long ahead of us, the adults in our “quaranteam” have had both doses and just a couple weeks away from being among the fully-vaccinated. As for us, Easter is a celebration and a major milestone, but the work isn’t done. Same here. Things may be getting closer to normal, but we’re going to only be “near normal” for awhile. That’s okay because it’s what gets us to the end goal.

Lent 2020 has been effectively 402 days long so far. Looking forward to Easter.

Categories
Austin Current Events

All Adults Eligible

All adults in Texas will be eligible for the COVID vaccine starting on March 29th.

In some areas of the state, demand in the priority groups is dropping, but in Austin, we’re still seeing a lot of Phase 1 folks trying to get a vaccine.

In other words, just because the state is making everyone eligible, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get an appointment. If you’re able to travel, the neighboring counties may not be a bad bet.