Holidays a time to serve, care for others

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St. Bridget’s middle and high school youth programs volunteered for the parish’s fourth annual Rake-a-Difference Nov. 7. Divided in to four groups, 25 persons spent the day doing yard work. Youth minister Amy Burns described it as “a simple and fun way of serving our neighbors and community.” Each participant is asked to introduce themselves prior to raking, and they take turns visiting with the homeowner while the group is working. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

As parishes around the Diocese of Superior adjust and adapt plans for the annual Thanksgiving meals and Christmas programs many offer, one pastor shares his thoughts on the upcoming holidays.

“Loneliness is starting to take its toll on those confined to their homes or apartments,” said Fr. Gerald Harris, pastor at St. Bridget’s Church in River Falls.

In years past, St. Bridget’s has hosted a community Thanksgiving dinner gathering in addition to delivering meals to shut-ins.

Working with the West Wind Supper Club to cater the event, Fr. Harris said they will still host the meal, but that it will look different.

Many parishes that host meals are doing likewise – curbside pickup, with some churches able to offer home delivery.

“The home delivery of a good meal helps break that loneliness for a brief moment this year,” Fr. Harris added.

A second-career priest, Fr. Harris’s first career was in healthcare as a registered nurse. He worked as a nurse in post-surgical intensive care and said when he hears nurses talking about how hard the pandemic has been, he gets it.

“I can only imagine with the added stress of COVID, so my heart really goes out to them,” Fr. Harris affirmed.

He is glad to see people staying at home – “They know this is what they have to do.”

He is also glad and honored that St. Bridget’s is “able to provide this chance to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now is the time we need to take care of one another.”

From a medical perspective, the priest advises, “Just stay safe.” He has been following the advice locally and nationally and notes this surge was predicted.

Fr. Harris acknowledged that we cannot deny the reality of the pandemic, but also recalls this is not the first time humanity has been dealt enormous challenges.

“This is our moment in history,” he said. “This is the time we totally trust God and help each other with what we can do. We will make it with God’s help and the help of good people.”

From his pastoral perspective, Fr. Harris – a priest of 41 years of ministry – shared that he and his brother priests and other community church leaders are supporting each other.

“We’ve never experienced any type of ministry like this, but we know that we just need to trust God, and do what we can,” he said. “That’s when we practice our faith.”

Fr. Harris emphasized “practice” as an action: “We practice our faith because then we can know of God’s blessings.

He continued, “At the same time, for those moments when we are challenged to the core – like this pandemic – we know… that God is always with us.”

St. Bridget’s parish has a staff member calling many parishioners, particularly to stay in contact with those who are homebound or at risk.

“As the pandemic continues, the calls are getting longer,” he said. “They are lonely and want to talk.”

Shut-ins are being mailed cards, and many of the Christmas flowers that would have been in church are being given to those confined to care facilities, nursing homes or their own homes.

“Do what you can do,” Fr. Harris urged. Shop for a neighbor, call them, shovel their snow.

“Think and pray and then do something,” he said, “anything in Christ’s name. The Lord will bless it.  It is not about us. It is about God working through us.”

Fr. Harris shared that people continue to express their concerns and offer their prayers for him during these times of challenging ministry.

“I say thank you very much,” the priest responded, “but every day, I get up and ask the Lord to bless what I’m going to do. At the end of the day, I tell him I did what I could in your kingdom but acknowledge it’s his kingdom.”

He commented that is the only way he can sleep at night, to be aware of what is going on but focus on the present moment and what he can do “today.” Amid so many continued unknowns, he is persevering in faith and a sense of security in God above all else.

Fr. Harris added perspective to his reflections, commenting on the confirmation interviews he had in the spring, via Zoom, with the candidates.

“It was interesting to ask the students what was good about what was happening,” he said. Over and over, teens shared that they enjoyed having supper together as a family every night, talking and playing games.

Not taking away from the challenges, the priest said it was “really interesting” how that the together-time COVID-19 was necessitating was also a blessing for these young people.

The upcoming holidays present “a good time for us to focus on their meaning,” Fr. Harris observed. “Even though Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, it is a time where we should stop and give thanks.”

Especially in this year and under the current circumstances, he advised focusing on “what we can give thanks for. To reflect on what God has given us, and to be thankful for that even though we can’t celebrate the way we want” and have hoped for.

He encouraged reflecting on the meaning of the holidays, “Especially, Christmas. Christ is present with us.  Emanuel—God is with us.”

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