If your brother sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. –Matthew 18:15
This past week, I have had the unfortunate experience of being on the negative side of this verse from Matthew 18, yet not about sin. It has been about mask wearing. The people who do not feel comfortable wearing a mask have been great in that they contacted me privately. My appreciation for their faithfulness is very high.
As you know, the State of New York is mandating that organizations that host large public gatherings make a choice: we either check people at the door about their COVID-19 vaccine status and refuse entry to those who are not vaccinated or we require everyone to wear a mask regardless of vaccine status. Bishop and I have chosen that everyone wear a mask, even those who have been vaccinated and could easily go without wearing a mask and be safe. We do not want to ostracize those who are not vaccinated. They are part of our church family.
Unfortunately, most folks have taken the request to wear masks as an affront to them and their liberties. The irony is that we are actually infringing upon the liberties of those who are vaccinated. We are requiring those who do not have a need to wear a mask so that those who are considered by the state to be a public health risk can be a part of our in person gatherings. We want everyone to come and be a part.
Friends, I am not really sure what to do. I really am not trying to make anyone mad. The approach Bishop and I are taking is trying to keep people in the fold, especially in light of Fr. Michael and Fr. Tom, real priests in our Diocese, as a cautionary true tale.
Fr. Michael Carl is a priest in our Diocese. Fr. Michael was an outspoken opponent of COVID vaccines, mask wearing, social distancing and the like. He was, until he contracted COVID on or about Christmas Eve. Now, Fr. Michael, is clinging to his life on a respirator at this very moment. He was not vaccinated. He did not wear a mask. He did not social distance. He posted this on the ICCEC facebook page the same day he was moved to ICU and placed on a ventilator:
Brothers and sisters, this is my sincere apology to all of you for my skepticism about COVID, the vaccines, etc. It’s been a long road since March 2020, when the virus broke out across the US and the world. But, nothing changes one’s mind like having to deal with COVID. I ask your forgiveness and for your healing prayers. Blessings to you all.
It may have been too late. We certainly hope not.
Fr. Tom, on the other hand, is fully vaccinated and boosted. He wears a mask and social distances. He was required to test every Monday by his employer. This past Monday, he tested positive even though he did not have any symptoms whatsoever. He is quarantining to keep others safe.
The story of these two priests is not rare at all.
Brothers and sisters, we are now in a phase of the pandemic where two things are happening. First, the much more contagious Omicron variant is spreading fast, causing many to get sick. There are hospitalizations even among the vaccinated, but the number of deaths is very low. Also, as of yesterday, the rate of infections has just dropped through the floor. The second thing that is happening is that 98% of those dying in hospitals of COVID are unvaccinated, according to a report by the University of Georgia.
I love you. I want you to be with us. Jesus asked us to take up our cross and follow Him, we are merely asking you to wear a mask until this surge has passed. So, until we are in the clear from Omicron, which looks to be just a few more weeks (I hope), we will All Mask Together so that we can all meet together. Otherwise, we would have to ostracize our brothers and sisters of the faith. We are not going to do that. We are not going to shame anyone. Please, if you haven’t, get vaccinated.
Update on Fr Michael as of last night: he has shown marginal improvement since being put on the ventilator. It was hoped that he would be moved to a larger hospital with better ability to assist him in his struggle, but there were no beds available in ICU because of COVID.