Gregory sued D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the city over restrictions imposed upon indoor gatherings, including at houses of worship, because of the coronavirus pandemic. He asserted that praying apart does not provide the same spiritual nourishment as praying together and that the city’s restrictions infringe upon the free exercise of religion.
I, an acknowledged sinner who falls short of the glory of God, still must weigh in on the issue of praying apart vs. praying alone.
Now, I get the part about Gregory’s saying a 50-person cap on religious services could be viewed as discriminatory because the order allowed big-box stores, retailers, liquor stores and other “essential” venues to operate without similar limits. Religious worship, Gregory contends, should be treated the same way.
Indeed, this pandemic has found me in big-box stores, and also liquor stores (well, just two), where I have shared space with more than 50 people. Of course, we were wearing masks and doing our best to keep six feet apart. So, I understand why the archbishop would want to know why his congregants should be turned away if they are willing to take similar precautions in their churches.
I also understand why the District has tried to impose science-based measures to protect the personal safety of residents and visitors. Covid-19 is hammering this city.
The District’s reported data as of Thursday included 210 new positive coronavirus cases, bringing the District’s overall positive case total to 27,436. Tragically, 756 District residents have lost their lives due to covid-19, including five on Wednesday.
Epidemiological data show that gatherings are significant contributors to the transmission of the coronavirus.
The mayor has a duty to act. Multiple caps and restrictions are being imposed, but not exclusively on houses of worship. Restaurants, live entertainment, sporting events, mass gatherings with distinctions drawn between indoor and outdoor gatherings also face restrictions, no matter the size of the venue.
To contend that spiritual nourishment is received only if you assemble in church, sit in pews and collectively engage in the liturgy, that is a bridge too far for some faith traditions.
Churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, as well as other religious denominations, are doing their part to help contain the spread of covid-19 by suspending in-house services. Many, like my own, have switched to virtual services where Mass and Communion are still observed.
I come away feeling spiritually nourished. It may not show. But I do.
Of course, there is a difference between engaging in the flesh vs. connecting through a broadcast medium. I miss gathering with others — sometimes.
But the essential connection is the link with the Almighty, not the person sitting in the next pew. That conduit is available in church, at home, at any time, anywhere.
I hasten to note that Cardinal Gregory is not a cleric parochially focused only on Catholic matters. I know he shares Bowser’s concern for the health and safety of all our communities.
As I observed in an earlier column, Gregory does not hesitate to raise his voice against injustices of any kind. He was one of the first religious leaders to show moral leadership by denouncing President Trump’s use of riot control tactics and debasement of the Bible during his June 1 photo op stunt outside St. John’s Church at Lafayette Square during demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd.
When Trump tried the same caper the following day with a visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine, Gregory let him have it. Blasting Trump’s attempt to associate with Pope John Paul II’s work, Gregory said “[the pontiff] certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Perhaps Trump should have prayed instead.
I read in Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing . . . on the street corners to be seen by men. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
With that in mind, perhaps praying apart is the same as praying together.
Besides, I’m not aware that God conducts head counts.
But, again, I’m not one to start trouble.
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