March 31, 2020

White Ribbons: 'I Will Never Forget You'

By Father Dave Pivonka, TOR *
Photo courtesy Fr. Dave Pivonka.
Photo courtesy Fr. Dave Pivonka.

On the afternoon of March 6, I walked around the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, saying goodbye to students as they headed off for Spring Break. On that cold afternoon, it was unimaginable that those students wouldn’t come back to campus to finish out the school year. It was even more unimaginable that our University, where the Mass has always been at the center of campus life, would cease the public celebration of the Eucharist.

Tragically, at Franciscan University, like everywhere else, the global spread of the coronavirus quickly made the unimaginable our new reality.

I’ve been living with that new reality for over two weeks now, and I don’t like it. So, last week, I decided to do something about it: I hung a white ribbon on the door of our University chapel.
Let me explain.

It breaks my heart to not celebrate the Mass with students, faculty, staff, and their families. I miss the singing and the filled pews, the cries of babies and the responses of the faithful. Most of all, I miss Holy Communion; I miss giving Jesus to those hungry to receive him.

I understand why our bishops and leaders made the decisions they’ve made. I’m not questioning the necessity of those decisions. Extreme social distancing, for now, is a necessary evil.

Just the same, like my brother priests everywhere, I miss my people. I long for the day we can gather again, to worship, to listen to the Word of God, to preach and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

Until that day comes, however, I want the men and women I serve to know that they are always with me in thought and prayer, that I’m not letting a day go by without interceding for them before God, and that I could never forget them.

Even more important, I want them to know that God could never forget them. God didn’t forget his people when they wandered in the desert for 40 years. He didn’t forget them when they worshipped idols, ignored his commands, and found themselves exiled in Babylon. And he hasn’t forgotten us now.
 
Make no mistake: Our Lord does not like being separated from his people in this way. Jesus wants to give himself to us. He wants us to encounter him in the liturgy, in the Church, and in the Eucharist.
And this is where the white ribbons come in.

Ribbons have long been a sign of remembrance. They tell the world that we have not forgotten someone: a prisoner, a soldier, or a sick friend. I’ve tied a white ribbon onto the door of Christ the King Chapel, as well as the Portiuncula Chapel, here at Franciscan University, to remind our community that their priests and their God have not forgotten them. I’ve invited my friends who are priests and bishops to do the same. They, in turn, are inviting more priests and bishops to join us.

My hope is that as Catholics walk or drive past their churches, they will see those white ribbons and know their priests are praying for them and waiting for the day we can fling open those doors to welcome them back inside.

I also hope, when they see those ribbons, they know Jesus is waiting for that day, too. He longs for the day when we can gather together once more, and he can be with all of us, again, in the sacraments.

That day is not yet here. Like the Israelites of old, the Catholic faithful have to wander in exile a little longer. Jesus has not left us orphans, though. He is still with us. He is with us in the Scriptures, which are his Word. He is with us in his people—those we live with, work with, or encounter online. He is with us in prayer and in silence and in the beauty of his creation, which is singing his praises as spring finally comes.

Look for Jesus in all those places. Look for Jesus where you are. And when you see white ribbons hanging from a church door, remember God’s promise in Isaiah 49:15: “I will never forget you.”

In the midst of the chaos and the confusion, and the craziness, let those ribbons be a reminder that your priests are still with you. Let them be a reminder that Jesus is still with you. And let them be a reminder that one day soon, this exile will end, the churches will re-open, and your priests will be standing there, ready and waiting to joyfully welcome you home.

Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, a well-known speaker and author, became the seventh president of Franciscan University of Steubenville in May 2019.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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