RICHMOND, Virginia — Acknowledging the “extraordinary measures” people need to take to remain physically healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond told the people of his diocese they need to be mindful of their spiritual health.
“We also confront a spiritual danger — one of fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and possibly even despair. This danger is caused by our interior response to an external threat to our life, culture, work and home,” he said during his homily at a private Mass livestreamed from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart March 22.
“As we confront this threat to our well-being, it is important to remember that we must attend to our spiritual as well as our physical health,” he added. “Both are interrelated and one affects the other.”
The day after the Mass the bishop learned he had tested negative for the coronavirus. On March 14, he went into self-isolation “out of care and caution” because he had a minor cold after returning from two weeks of traveling around the diocese. On his doctor’s recommendation, Knestout visited a health care facility March 19 to be tested for the flu and COVID-19.
At the time of the livestreamed Mass, Knestout had not yet received the negative test result, so he did not celebrate the Mass but delivered his homily from a side chapel in the cathedral The Mass was concelebrated by the diocese’s vicar general, Father Michael Boehling, and the cathedral rector, Father Anthony Marques.
In his homily, the bishop spoke about the conflict between the “natural desire in times of uncertainty to draw close to one another” in a communal setting, and yet to remain physically distant from one another due to COVID-19.
“This conflict between the attraction of love and the caution of fear creates tension within and anxiety,” he said. “What is appropriate and what is an overreaction? What is prudent and what is complacent? What is the remedy then to this emotional and spiritual conflict within us?”
“Amid calls to distance, we must still remember charity and the command to respond to the needs of the vulnerable, weak and the poor,” he said. “Isolation can be as dangerous to life as a virus is. Let’s not allow the anxiety about the virus to keep us from expressing charity to those in need.”
Knestout said that technology provides people an opportunity to “ensure charity, even at a distance.”
“Each of us can plan to contact 10 people each day, to encourage them, listen to them, find out if they have any needs, if they are struggling with any difficulties,” he said. “Once we know of these needs, with courage we should act, to seek out ways to help and remedy their need. We can do so with right judgment, with prudence.”
Knestout said prayer is the key to all that the faith community does.
“In a time when we are fearful of a new virus threatening lives, and we need to socially distance ourselves from one another to safeguard each other’s health, our faith allows us to see this time of isolation and anxiety, as an occasion for drawing close to God in solitude and prayer,” he said.
Prior to the conclusion of Mass, Knestout consecrated the diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.
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