National health experts and scientists continue to express grave concerns that the spread of COVID-19 is far from over. While they agree that mitigation and the other precautions that have been taken throughout the country seem effective, they are urging people not to lower their guard about this exceedingly contagious virus. Some experts fear that we are facing a “slow burn” in the U.S. with coronavirus continuing to spread “for many months to come.”  

“You can see this slow simmer explode into a new epidemic or large outbreaks,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration. “That’s the concern – that if we don’t snuff this out more, and you have this slow burn of infection, it can ignite at any time.”

“You need to continue to social distance, you need to continue to practice scrupulous hand-washing,” observed Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “If you have any pre-existing condition, through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of any reopening, we have asked you to continue to shelter in place.”

Our own state continues to witness an alarmingly high number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the second highest number in the U.S. Despite the effort to provide some relaxation of regulations in N.J. state parks, golf courses and beaches to allow outdoor activities, these efforts remain subject to current precautionary restrictions.  

Speaking on Fox News Sunday regarding the situation in N.J., Governor Phil Murphy expressed some optimism but cautioned, “We’ve got to make our decision based on the science, the data and the facts… we’re not out of this yet ... we’re not in the end zone yet.” He continued, “We’re the densest state in America, our region is the densest region in America, [so] we’ve got to be exceedingly careful.”

In the Diocese of Trenton, I have created a Post-Pandemic Parish Task Force of Pastors to initiate planning for the time when our parishes and churches can begin to reopen for private prayer without public Masses, sacramental celebrations and group prayer and devotions, observing the state guidelines currently in place. The Task Force will then establish common guidelines and directives for the time when we can proceed toward the gradual, full restoration of parish life. It is clear, however, that the time is not now and not yet.  

Churches will remain temporarily closed for the present, livestreamed Masses will continue to support our prayer life for the time being, spiritual communions will be encouraged until we can receive the Eucharist again and Sacraments will remain temporarily postponed until it is safe to resume these elements of our full Catholic spiritual life. The key word is “safe.” Those with the extensive public health expertise, experience and competence have advised that the situation is simply not “safe” for us at this point in the pandemic, especially for those who are unknowingly asymptomatic and may be COVID-19 carriers or for those in high-risk categories.

In the meantime, our faith and hope must remain strong, perhaps stronger than ever. Our conviction that God is especially present in times of sacrifice and suffering must influence our personal and communal response to what the pandemic requires of us. Our hunger for the Eucharist and Sacraments must intensify our spiritual desire. Our prayer life must accompany us daily through these difficult times. Our circumstances must move us to continue to be generous, especially with our parishes, which are facing huge financial problems as they contemplate even greater burdens now and in the future.

Although, for now, we need to stay apart physically to prevent and contain further contagion, we also need to remain spiritually together, united and determined that “nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Lord" (Romans 8:39). What is temporary, will end. What is enduring – faith, hope and love – will continue.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!