First Catholic priest in US to die of COVID-19: The practical good of Good Friday

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First Catholic priest in US to die of COVID-19: The practical good of Good Friday

April 10, 2020 -

“In this time of crisis and panic, it’s time to love and live our faith.” This was the message of the first Catholic priest to die of coronavirus in America.

Rev. Jorge Ortiz-Garay graduated in his native Mexico with a law degree, then followed his calling into the priesthood. He attended seminary in Italy in the 1990s, then studied theology in New Jersey. He was ordained at the Archdiocese of Newark in 2004 and served as pastor of St. Brigid Church in Brooklyn.

A priest at the church said of him, “In the community, he was known to be a father—a father to many.” He was especially known for his work with children; in videos, he sings Christmas carols in Spanish with them. He also loved working with youth, including last year’s trip to Panama for World Youth Day.

Just days before he died on March 27, he officiated a Mass. The pews were empty; dozens prayed with him from home via livestream. Afterward, he fell ill but thought it was a minor cold since he had chronic bronchitis. His condition worsened and he was taken to the hospital where he died from COVID-19.

He was forty-nine years old.

The practical good of Good Friday

Frederick Buechner admits that the problem of evil is “perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith.” He notes that “Christian Science solves the problem of evil by saying that it does not exist except as an illusion of mortal mind. Buddhism solves it in terms of reincarnation and an inexorable law of cause and effect.”

However, “Christianity . . . ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene—not even this—but that God can turn it to good.”

The “good” from Good Friday is first and foremost, of course, our salvation purchased by Jesus’ atoning death. He died for Father Ortiz just as he died for you and me. His death made possible our salvation and eternity with him in heaven.

But there are other goods to come from this day as well.

When Christians respond to God’s sacrificial love for us by sharing it with others, this is good. When we choose to reject temptation and live biblically out of gratitude for his atoning grace, this is good. When we resolve to change the world for the glory of our loving Lord and the love of our neighbor, this is good.

However, to fully experience the Good of this Friday, we must experience its evil.

Going to the cross on Good Friday is a hard and harsh thing. It causes us to confront the reality of our sins and the agony they cost our Savior.

But when we do, God meets us in his word and we—and the world—cannot be the same.

A. W. Tozer noted: “It is not by reading the Scriptures in the original languages or in some contemporary version that makes us better Christians. Rather, it is getting on our knees with the Scriptures before us, and allowing the Spirit of God to break our hearts. Then, when we have been thoroughly broken before God Almighty, we get up off our knees, go out into the world and proclaim the glorious message of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.”

Will you make time today to be “broken before God Almighty”?

Then, in response to his sacrificial grace, will you find a way to make this Friday “Good” for someone you know?

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