“Ask a Priest: Does God Want Me to Avoid the Sacraments?”

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Q: I live in a rural area in the South where there is only one Catholic church in the county. None of the other options within driving distance have a mask mandate. I am immunocompromised, and my doctor has told me not to be anywhere inside unless masks are worn even though I am vaccinated and received the booster. I have asked the church closest to me to consider finding a way to include the immunocompromised, but the latest response has gotten nowhere. We have Eucharistic adoration at our parish, and when I suggested that masks be required at least during one hour, the lay leader in charge said it might be best for me to wait until it is safer. I do not think COVID is going away anytime soon, so when it is safer seems very far in the future. I feel angry and resentful about the attitude toward those who are already so isolated. It seems so contrary to what Our Lord would do. It’s made me lose a lot of respect for the clergy and the diocese when they are preaching about ways to be a better person that are hypocritical. I receive the Eucharist almost weekly at home, thankfully, and the priest has been accommodating when I’ve requested reconciliation — but I used to go weekly and I feel like I’m a bother if I ask more than monthly. I’ve spent months in prayer about this issue, and the only answer I seem to receive is to stop trying to fit into a congregation that doesn’t want me there. I am able to attend as long as masks are worn, but no churches will comply here. Is it possible that God doesn’t want me to attend Mass? I love the sacraments and cannot believe that would be God’s will. Thank you for your ministry. – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about the situation.

While your frustration in understandable, you never want to think that God somehow doesn’t want you in the Church or receiving the sacraments. Those are thoughts you want to recognize as temptations.

It’s unfortunate that parishes and dioceses are still working their way through the pandemic and its aftereffects.

Some of the decisions being made come down to prudence. It might be good to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and to assume that people are trying to do their best.

With all fatigue from the pandemic, some parishes might believe that requiring masks of everyone might be too much of a burden on the vast majority of people.

Some commentators note that an ongoing insistence on masks can actually undercut people’s confidence in the vaccines and keep others from getting the shot. And the more that people avoid the vaccine, the greater the risk of their getting and spreading COVID — and being a threat to the immunocompromised. It’s something of a catch-22.

Even before the coming of COVID, doctors would probably have advised their immunocompromised patients to avoid public gatherings; and there would have been no expectation that businesses or other institutions take extraordinary means to accommodate those prone to diseases and illness.

In any case, the effectiveness and necessity of masks, lockdowns and social distancing, etc., are hotly debated to this day, with experts coming down on both sides of the issue. If there is no consensus in the wider society, it’s not surprising that there is no uniform agreement in Catholic circles.

I mention all this to put things in perspective. God certainly wants us to receive the sacraments. But this isn’t to say that access will always be easy.

That you are able to receive the Eucharist weekly and the sacrament of confession occasionally is a sign that the parish is trying to reach out to you. It hasn’t abandoned you.

Nevertheless, it sounds as though this situation is starting to shake your faith. The devil would love for that to happen. He is the first one to exploit problems to sow disunity, especially within the Church.

To counter that, it would be good to intensify your prayer life and ask the Holy Spirit for serenity and guidance.

Then, in a moment of serenity, try to draw up a list of steps you could pursue. Try to be realistic; you shouldn’t be discouraged if you can’t have things 100% your way. God can shower his graces in many ways. And one of things he blesses is our obedience to the proper authorities.

You seem to be willing to give total obedience to your doctor. Perhaps a bit of that same spirit of obedience should be applied in the spiritual realm. Try to see that pastors and bishops are doing their best to accommodate as many people as possible.

That said, there might be ways to access the sacraments while taking reasonable precautions. For instance, you might see if you could go to a sparsely attended Mass and sit in the choir loft and receive Communion afterward from a masked minister.

If you want to confess more often, you might seek out the sacrament of reconciliation where a confessional has ample separation between priest and penitent.

In any case, it is good to remember that life involves a certain amount of risk. Every time we get in a car or an airplane, we are risking injury or even death. The vaccines themselves have caused a few deaths, so even they aren’t 100% guaranteed.

And be wary of how the devil might be using all this to get you discouraged or angry at a parish or diocese. It would give him a chuckle to see you pull away from the Church.

I hope that some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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