Our grammar school, high school, and university graduates have undergone an unanticipated and much toned-down finale as they planned to take leave of their schools. Ordinarily, graduations are festive times with parties, celebrations, family visits, and much hoopla. This year, because of COVID-19, those traditions have been drastically curtailed. 

Many academic institutions prepared virtual observances. A few creative souls have organized drive-by celebrations or posted funny comparative pictures of our graduates as toddlers and what they look like as today’s graduates on social media to assure these young people of our affection and pride in their accomplishments. I have happily participated in some of those efforts.

Above all, parents, faculty, friends, and relatives want our young people to know of our deep love for them and our sincere delight as they conclude an important step in their education. Most schools have had to conclude the academic year with some form of distance learning.

It has been a time when many parents were asked to learn new technology skills in order to assist with the formal education of their kids. On-line services have made it possible for many people to engage in educational activities in heretofore rarely used formats. I do not believe that we have seen the last of that type of activity. 

Many workplaces have also engaged in work-from-home options – including our Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. These tactics too will have to be taken into consideration as we move into the future.

Education, work, and celebrations have undergone a rapid but necessary alteration in just a little more than two months. And as skilled and proficient as we might have become in this new environment, we know technology is a tool – a most important and necessary tool – but it will never supplant face-to-face personal encounters. This is especially the case with our liturgical life and public worship. 

Even as we begin to re-introduce our ritual life, with the limitations that we must continue to observe until this virus is completely overcome, the human need for touch and physical encounters will remain unfulfilled.

The friendliness of the sign of peace at Mass that invites us to remember that we pray not merely as individuals but as one family and among friends, the festive choral music that reflects the rich traditional, cultural and ethnic diversity of our Church, the presence of the many different liturgical ministers – young and old – around the altar that indicates that the Church is always much more than our beloved clergy, the warmth of an embrace at the sight of a dear friend at the entrance of the doors of the church are all a part of how we express our human closeness at prayer. 

We have sacrificed these personal contacts for the sake of the common good and for the safety of those who may be more vulnerable to the virus at this time. We all should look forward to when we can take them up once again.

Technology can never supplant these moments – as it cannot supersede the festive events of graduation or other important occasions. It is important for us to remember that we live in a temporary moment in history because of this virus. We need the advantages that technology offers during this episode that we are now in, but we must never forget that the more personal, physical and sacramental encounters are what we are made for as humans and believers.