Pastoral care in pandemic times



A worldwide pandemic that leaves schools closed, businesses shuttered and streets empty seems like something you could dial up on Netflix any night of the week. But instead of a two-hour saga completed, we find ourselves seven weeks in with many questions about our future unanswered. 

At Notre Dame, we are fortunate to have resources through Campus Ministry and Human Resources to help us cope and sort out how we feel and how this pandemic and sheltering in place are affecting us. Through Campus Ministry, chaplains are available to staff and faculty to offer pastoral or spiritual guidance, not only during this stressful time, but anytime. Without compromising confidentiality, we asked staff chaplain Rev. Jim Bracke, C.S.C., what he is seeing and hearing from the Notre Dame community, and if he might be able to point us in the right direction in understanding this new normal.

NDWorks: Have many people reached out to you since the campus essentially closed? Are there common themes to their concerns, and could you share what those are?


Father Bracke: I would say about 20 people have reached out to me during this pandemic. Most were concerned about the health of their loved ones, fears over their future and their jobs. All began by asking “How was I doing?” which was most kind. They all asked for prayers.

NDW: We’ll pose some questions that you may be receiving from the community, starting with: Why is the pandemic happening? 

Father Bracke: God did not cause this pandemic; it is the result of the human condition. The cause is a virus that seems invisible, is carried by humans and passed to others in daily interactions, especially in close or confined spaces. It strikes people of all ages and is in over 180 countries. The elderly, who deal with lung, asthma, heart and diabetic conditions, are especially vulnerable.

NDW: Why doesn’t God stop it? 

Father Bracke: God is working to end the virus through each one of us, especially through the talents of the medical field, scientists and researchers who are working to find a vaccine. God is working in the courageous efforts of health care professionals at hospitals and pharmacies, emergency medical technicians, ambulance and transportation drivers, grocery clerks and companies working to get testing procedures, masks made and ventilators available. God is working in each of us to be responsible for the mitigation of the virus through handwashing, sanitizers, social distancing, etc. 

NDW: How can I ease my anxiety?

Father Bracke: I believe that prayer, privately and with others, and talking with someone about the fears and anxiety you may have and naming those fears will, I believe, help reduce its power. And trying to be aware of those in need at this time and doing what you can will help focus the mind and heart away from you. When one is anxious, staying inside himself/herself is not going to help. Reaching out to God and others is a positive way of lessening the anxiety. If you look at the HR website there are resources a staff member can use to help reduce the anxiety.

NDW: I miss going to church. What can I do to maintain my faith life?

Father Bracke: Missing being in church, in prayer with a faith community, is difficult, and I recommend scripture reading. Faith sharing on Zoom or with family, spiritual reading and spiritual direction are excellent ways to nurture and strengthen one’s faith. Spiritual direction is available through Campus Ministry.

NDW: We’re starting to get on each other’s nerves in my house. What can I do to help?

Father Bracke: Being in close quarters with family is indeed a challenge. Family counselors might be a helpful resource there. It would seem that talking out one’s needs on a calm, rational level and having family circles to air out the issues and needs might be helpful. If the house will allow, having people spread out and being respectful is the ideal. Taking time for walks, with social distance, especially in nature can be healing and fruitful.

NDW: Could you offer some wisdom for people in these difficult times?

Father Bracke: My wisdom is letting go (of the stress) and letting God or a higher power (handle it), get plenty of exercise, maintain a regular schedule, do something for those in need or check on neighbors, elders or those alone. Keeping a daily schedule is good, and choose to put a variety of things in that schedule. Prayer is vital, and living in the now — not looking in the past or too far into the future — is good. Gratitude is a big one for me that helps put everything in perspective.