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Q: COVID wedding? My friend is getting married this season, and I’m nervous about attending due to COVID-19. I’m supposed to be a bridesmaid. The bride and groom have indicated that guests are welcome to take any precautions that they are comfortable with but that nothing will be enforced—which means some guests might not wear masks. I have an immunocompromised parent who I help care for, so I’m nervous about attending. But I’m also worried about hurting my friendship with the bride by not going. How should I handle this?
A: Among many other things, COVID-19 is calling each of us to tap into new levels of self-understanding, communication and acceptance. With everyone coming to this pandemic from a different set of circumstances, it can feel impossible to please all the people in our lives. The good news is that it’s not our job to please all the people in our lives. Our job is to use our brains and consciences to evaluate our particular situation, to make decisions accordingly, and to communicate our decisions lovingly.
While saying “no” to a dear friend will never be easy, honesty in regards to your needs is essential for both the short term health of the people to whom you are beholden and for the long term health of your friendship. Hiding your feelings and downplaying your needs has the potential to weaken your relationship’s foundation and to plant seeds of bitterness. At a time when connection is more needed than ever, finding the courage to be honest with your friend—and celebrating her in some special way from a distance—is vital.
Q: Work at home woes. I’ve recently struggled a lot with staying focused on my work, especially now that I’m working from home. I know I should be working harder, but I keep getting distracted with other things. How can I get better at this?
—Distracted Desk Worker
A: That’s a question we’d all like an answer to! COVID-19 has certainly changed our daily routines. But thankfully, you still have your job. That’s something to be grateful for. I recall reading a number of articles early in the pandemic about the challenges of establishing regularity and structure in our upended lives, especially when dealing with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and the unknown. Bad habits spring up all too easily, sometimes without our even realizing it. While at the same time we have to attend to our mental and physical health.
What can’t be overlooked in all of this is that we are also spiritual beings and our spirits need to be nourished. What are some life-giving activities that you enjoy that lift your spirit? Those activities may be all the more important now. True, they may have to be creatively adjusted to your current circumstances. But they need to be attended to and really honored. Otherwise we will often feel a constant pull away from the task at hand.
So, build a life-giving activity into your routine. In this regard I like to recall Jesus’ ministry. He was so often preaching and teaching, and no doubt he enjoyed that. But he was a much more dynamic person than that and had other needs and desires. I love the moments where we see him step away to find a quiet place to pray. He takes time to do something else that’s meaningful to him. He needed that time to refresh his spirit. Once refreshed, he could return to the work he loved. So, how might you refresh your spirit?
—John Christman, S.S.S.
Q: Cold communion. My daughter’s First Communion was postponed to this fall. She asked if she can wear pants instead of a dress. She currently wears uniform pants to school every day instead of the skirt, so I don’t think her school would mind. I’m just worried she might be the only girl not wearing a dress or that she’ll regret it later (photos, etc.). Is it worth the potential commotion?
A: There are plenty of times in life when we have to do things we don’t want to do (endure a root canal, clean up your child’s vomit, spend $2,000 on a new car transmission) or even wear things that we don’t want to wear (the maroon camp counselor uniform polo, a sweater Great Aunt Mildred knitted, a hospital gown while giving birth). But I don’t think that your daughter’s First Communion has to be one of those places for her. In fact, I feel quite adamantly that forcing frills will communicate precisely the opposite message that this special day is meant to convey: that we are welcome at the Lord’s Table just as we are. I know too many people who have left the church because they didn’t feel accepted to ever give advice suggesting that someone ought to dress in a particular way just because it’s the norm.
Maybe someday your daughter will look back at her first communion pictures and wish she had worn a dress. Or maybe, she’ll leaf through the photos and warmly recall feeling loved by her family, accepted by her faith community, valued as a member of the body of Christ, and comfortable in her own skin. Myself, I’d risk the potential wardrobe regret for the assurance of these gifts.
Q: Noisy neighbors. My upstairs neighbors make so much noise during the day. I know it’s not their fault: we live in an old apartment building and I can hear everything. But since I work from home now, it’s starting to get in the way of my ability to work. Is there a nice way to tell them to be more mindful during the day?
A: I’m sorry for your challenges with noise while working from home. This has been a disruptive time for so many people. Finding peace in the midst of challenges is not easy, so I empathize with your situation. I’m glad you want to talk to your neighbor. Hopefully it’s not the first time you talk to your neighbor. If we step back and look at our culture through a Catholic lens, we might see just how individualistic our society has become. That’s a sad reality. Catholicism is inherently relational. In fact, Pope Francis has spoken more and more about our “interdependence” as human beings. Building good and respectful relationships with others is our path to holiness.
So, it may be helpful to reframe this conversation. In your question you ask: “if there’s a nice way … to tell them to be a little more mindful during the day.” That sounds a little less like a conversation and more like an instruction. Instead of instructing your neighbors to change their behavior, perhaps first get to know them and their experience. They likely inadvertently make noise in this “old apartment building.” And if they do, it’s likely that you may affect their lives in unexpected ways as well. So, even though it may take a little more time and effort, maybe begin by getting to know your neighbor. You may be able to help each other in unexpected ways. The Eucharist we share reminds us of the importance of hospitality and hospitality builds community. Perhaps thinking of this less as an issue to be resolved and more as a relationship will help you enter into this conversation.
—John Christman, S.S.S.