Fr. Alexander Laschuk, PhD is a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto. He is currently the Interim Executive Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute in the Faculty of Theology, in addition to his responsibility as Judicial Vicar of the Toronto Regional Tribunal. He lives in Trinity-Bellwoods with his wife and daughter.
Finding Stillness in Chaos
I am a Catholic priest. Unlike most you know, I am married and have a six-year-old daughter (with number two on the way). Also unlike most priests you know, I do not spend much of my ministry in a parish. Instead, I live my priestly ministry in the curia, where I work as a canon lawyer. There are seven dioceses in Ontario for which I am responsible. Additionally, I seem to have a specific skill set—I fix problems. Sometimes those problems are in my own Eparchy, which extends from the Ontario border to the Atlantic. At other times my service is to the universal Church, which brings me to dioceses throughout the English-speaking world. My ministry means I am frequently away from home, which can add up to two or even three months in a year.
This all came to a crashing, screeching halt in March. I remember my last day in the office with my staff—we already were encouraging people to work from home. It was the feast of St. Joseph and there were zeppole on my desk. The State of Emergency was declared shortly thereafter, and we all began a brave new adventure.
In my case, this has meant being physically grounded—a real blessing in some ways as now I am home every day to put my daughter to bed. But it has also been chaos. When the Archdiocese moved to “remote work” except for essential staff it meant that in addition to my own job I suddenly had to keep 26 people busy. We were in the midst of opening a new tribunal office in the suburbs to remove the “physical distance” that, Pope Francis reminds us, prevents people from accessing the tribunal.
In our small Ukrainian Eparchy many parishes needed help applying for government support; I became the go-to guy with all these acronyms that soon became all too familiar: ROE, CERB, CEWS, and CEBA. At our parish in Trinity-Bellwoods, instead of hearing Easter confessions I became a videographer and learned far too much about live-streaming, while at my daughter’s school, the online class sessions every morning and afternoon became the anchor of her (and our) day. I realized how lucky we were when I spoke to other kindergarten parents whose children would only have one (or no) session a week.
My wife, who suffers from difficult pregnancies, was often bed- or couch-ridden and was, as I termed her, a “quarantine professional” who never left the apartment except for medical appointments. The usual downtown comfort of the constant hum of people and traffic turned into silence, and often the only sounds were screams in the night from the growing number of people on the street and in the park with nowhere else to go. As bedtime not so quickly approached for my daughter, there would be the silent prayer to God: just one more hour, Lord. Get us there, peacefully if possible. When she’d finally go down it would be frantic work until I fell asleep to catch up on all those things left behind in the workday.
More than four months have passed. The world is awakening from its pandemic-induced slumber. We have set up a chapel in the parish archives where I celebrate mass with my wife and daughter. For my daughter’s sixth birthday we ran around individual cakes for her party on Zoom. We’re getting really good at making dinner as a family instead of constantly eating out. I’ve started a new job as Interim Executive Director at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute here at USMC. I can’t go into my office at Windle House and my predecessor can’t move out. I’ve not been on an airplane in six months. Our new home has been delayed nearly a year. The parish has spent thousands on PPE. I overhear my daughter giving her friends Zoom advice. My car dashboard is covered in blue masks. My wife rejoices that we’ve almost run out of hotel shampoo.
This time has left me frequently thinking of Elijah, who we call Elias in the East. When he went to find the Lord God, the Voice was not in the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the light breeze (3 Kings 19). Here, in the unnatural silence of abandoned downtown, the Voice of God blows with the breeze across the abandoned storefronts and the tents in the park. I hope we can all find a moment to stop and hear it, finding stillness in this time of chaos.