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Urgent appeal to bishops: Fight to make sacraments more available to your faithful Sign the petition here.

April 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Rome, we have a problem.  In the midst of a crisis with the world ripe for evangelization, as people seek the comfort only God can bring, our sacraments are locked away for fear of the coronavirus.  Good Friday has arrived in the most authentic Lenten period of our lives, and as the devil crowns God’s creation with thorns, Catholic shepherds, like Simon Peter, seem to be denying Jesus’ power through the Eucharist to save us.    

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am left with countless questions as I attempt to understand exactly why those doors of our churches are locked.  Yes, COVID-19 makes me concerned for my earthly life, and yes, I would greatly prefer to live through this pandemic and yes, I strongly believe in taking precautions to prevent the virus’ spread.  However, I personally would rather contract the coronavirus while receiving the sacraments than be spiritually starved, risking loss of eternal life by having them denied to me. 

Worst-case predictions make COVID-19 less deadly than being in the womb, a target for abortion. This raises the question about why the Church is only now concerned enough about the value of human life to act in such a drastic manner? In 2017, 862,000 Americans died by abortion. Abortion gives US children in the womb a 18% fatality rate. As of this writing, there have only been 4,600 coronavirus deaths in the U.S., with a fatality rate expected to be just over 1 percent

…for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  'Sir,' they said, 'give us that bread always.'  Jesus answered them: I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst.  John 6:33-35

Why can the faithful not receive the two vital sacraments needed for daily life? If the Eucharist is not essential in the battle against COVID-19, why or when would we ever need it?  

Since my first communion many years ago, I have been given “that bread” always. Last Sunday, with the world in crisis, I suffered my first denial and the available “Virtual Communion” left me empty.  As many of us face indefinite denials we should make a thoughtful decision about which bread is more important to us.  

By the Church’s voluntary removal of the Bread of Life from our lives, without at the same time instructing the faithful to avoid purchasing worldly bread (or anything else) at grocery stores, our shepherds are concurring with a secular world that prioritizes nourishment for the body over nourishment for the soul.  

At the Last Supper, it was not so.  

Equally troubling is the question I can no longer answer, frequently asked by our Christian brethren.   Why do we need to confess our sins through an intermediary?  COVID-19 is a worldly affliction that is calling us to repentance and our priests are being made unavailable when God’s children are in greatest need.   

The sacraments have been relegated to a priority below that of buying a hot dog bun.  

After this crisis ends our bishops should not wonder why Catholics have left their parishes for that super friendly, feeling good, woke Christian Church down the street with the good music.  If the sacraments are not all that important then the Catholic Church is nothing special.  

From the communications we have received from our dioceses, the impression comes that our priests are being ordered to hunker down and wait for the corona crisis to end.  First if this is not true, our priests need to communicate otherwise.  If it is true, it should not be.  

I am a physician; I treat the physical body.  How much more valuable to the community is the Catholic priest, whose job it is to treat the spiritual body? If I am successful, my patients may live a little longer and have a better quality of life. But all my patients die (eventually).  For the priest, his effort could mean the difference between eternal damnation and never-ending life with God for one of his sheep.  

During this COVID crisis, from the ER physician to the grocery bagger, many people are putting themselves at risk to serve the community.  Should not the priest be there as well, making the sacraments available, while taking all reasonable precautions?  

Every day, our bishops should be working closely with government officials and medical experts to develop protocols to bring the faithful the sacraments.  Here is one I propose as a starting point.

After proper preparation, healthy priests would consecrate the hosts during live streamed (if possible) private Masses.   At a designated time, the priest would be available in a large closed off outdoor area through which cars could process.  At the entrance point to the area a screener would ask appropriate health and religious questions and possibly measure temperature.   Those who were high risk would be turned away and forced to follow another protocol to receive the Eucharist.  Those who passed screening would proceed into the line of cars and proceed to the priest who would be wearing a protective mask.  After giving the Eucharist to each member in the car, the priest would purify his hands (by means of an ablution bowl and purifier), disinfect his hands, and take at one time the number of hosts needed for the communicants in the next car.  He would then beckon that car forward with the Eucharist distributed in a method of the priest’s choosing.   

Is the problem inherent with providing the sacraments one of logistics or is it concern for social distancing?  Many of us are available and willing to help with logistics.  And following government demands for social distancing still allows us to shop for essentials and purchase McDonald’s takeout.  If the plan for provision of Communion and Reconciliation is properly and passionately presented to government officials, making them explicitly aware of the necessity of the sacraments to bring healing to their community, denial seems unlikely.  The dilemma posed by possible government refusal would require close examination of Jesus’ words, “give to God what belongs to God; give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”  The courageous response would be insisting that the sacraments belong to God, and move forward.   To not move forward would be a crisis of courage which, although troubling, would actually be more comforting than the crisis of faith appearing now, in which our shepherds fail to see the importance of the sacraments in defeating this evil scourge.

It has taken 50 years to arrive at our current crisis in faith.  What began with the contraceptive pill and the idea that sex is primarily about pleasure has led to the clergy’s weak response to widespread sexual abuse and homosexuality within its ranks, and eventually the refusal of our bishops to sincerely accept the value of unborn life.  

The years of inaction in the face of 61,000,000 American abortions has devalued human life in the womb, while making life outside the womb now seemingly more valuable than heavenly life. Read “Too many Catholic bishops don’t really seem to care about ending abortion” for more about this. Rather than address these foundational issues resolutely, the faithful have been distracted with talk of complex subjects like climate change and immigration, for which our clergy has little expertise and for which no coherent Catholic solution has been formulated.  Emphasizing these issues, however, has generally brought our shepherds secular praise, and relieved them from having to make the type of courageous decisions they should be making now, but appear unwilling or unable to.  In 2018 as Pope Francis questioned President Trump’s Christianity regarding immigration, he was making a deal with China to allow the communists to help select Catholic bishops.  Figuratively speaking the virus of Communism was allowed to enter into the Catholic Church in China with now ironic, but tragic results, first for Italy and now the United States.  

The COVID-19 crisis is about the Lord calling the world back to faith.  In our arrogance man thinks he can control the uncontrollable; he cannot.  Being a Catholic in these times is even more difficult as the Church is in crisis as well.  However, the solution to both crises is straightforward; my pastor relayed it to me a few weeks ago, “Repent and believe in the gospel.”  

We can do it now or do it later; it will require the Sacraments. 

Peter Michael Bleyer, MD, is a Board Certified Family Practice Physician working as a wound care physician in Conway, South Carolina. He is a member of the Catholic Medical Association. He is a father of five and a US Navy retiree.