(This is Msgr. John Enzler's “Faith in Action” column for the May 14, 2020 edition of the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)
Young or old, there have been few times in which we’ve lived with as much uncertainty and confusion as we do now. The COVID-19 crisis continues to change so much, from our daily patterns to our plans for the future. We struggle with less control and not knowing the future. Perhaps a young woman from Nazareth 2,000 years ago can help us respond.
We are now halfway through May, and the impact of the pandemic-forced closures has widened. I pray for those dealing directly with the illness, forced separation from loved ones, or the loss of a job. At this time of year in particular, I think about second graders who have to wait for First Communion and eighth graders who must delay Confirmation. I think about the uncertainty of finishing up this school year and preparing for next, especially for those who will transition from grade school to middle school, from middle school to high school, from high school to college, and those graduating from college and hoping to enter the job market.
These are challenging times. We are all trying to keep our balance and find ways to deal with these postponements and setbacks amid the very different reality in which we find ourselves.
At the same time, I’ve talked to many people who say their prayer life has improved and their quiet time increased, that exercise and walking have become more a part of their daily routine, that family dinners are more common, that they are getting more sleep. As difficult as these times are, there are blessings in spending more time with those we love and more time with the Lord, who loves us so much as well.
The Church traditionally celebrates Mary in the month of May. Archbishop Gregory recently joined with other bishops from the United States and Canada to re-consecrate both countries to “her maternal care and loving protection.” For me, I think about Mary’s “yes” to the angel’s profound request that she be the way in which God would come into the world. Her response amid the confusion and uncertainty she surely felt should give us comfort in our own time of uncertainty and setbacks.
We would do well to look for ways to emulate Mary this month. Her “yes” to God is the foundation of our motto at Catholic Charities, which is: “Say yes every time you can, and no only when you have to.” In other words, our go-to response to anyone who is in need, in trouble, hungry, or vulnerable should be as often as possible, “Yes, we can help you.”
When I came to the agency almost nine years ago, I realized that for some the answer had too often become “no.” It wasn’t a mean-spirited “no,” more that we weren’t able to offer a particular program or service. Today, I hope our response is, “Yes, we can do that for you.” And if we are unable to say that, we still find a way to help, with a response like, “While we don’t have that particular program, let me guide you to a place that does.” Our goal is to help every individual who comes to us.
That desire to say “yes” as much as possible is based upon Mary’s “yes” 2,000 years ago. The angel Gabriel appeared to her and said that she would bear a son to be called Emmanuel. Can you imagine? And yet, her response was a simple and beautiful, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) It is known as her fiat, which is a Latin word meaning, “Let it be done.”
During this month when we honor Mary, may we all look for ways to say “yes,” whether it be for Catholic Charities, your parish, your family, or yourself. Let us go the extra mile to respond lovingly to a need that may be placed in our path.
Many of you are already doing so. The number of people who have stepped forward to say “yes” to us at Catholic Charities has been truly special. Even in this time of uncertainty, we have received over 1,000 gifts these last few weeks ranging from $5 to $100,000. Those gifts now total more than $1 million. All of that money is being spent on our response to the COVID-19 crisis, most of it on providing food and meals to those who through no fault of their own don’t have enough to feed their families.
Saying “yes” to God and to our brothers and sisters in the Lord will lift you up, unite you with Mary’s ultimate “yes,” and enable you to do more for others. It has been my guiding principle in 47 years in the priesthood. I have found it fulfilling and freeing, and I hope you will as well.
Think about the “yes” you can give to your spouse, your children, your parents, friends, neighbors, pastors, Church, boss, co-workers, and anyone else in your life. Every time you lovingly say “yes” to others, you grow in their eyes, in God’s eyes, and I believe you also will grow in your own eyes.
May our “yes” draw us closer to each other, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her perfect “yes,” and to the God of love and mercy himself.
(Msgr. Enzler serves as the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.)