When he was consecrated as a Diocese of Orange auxiliary bishop on January 17, 2017, Timothy Freyer couldn’t have predicted the extraordinary loneliness his flock would experience, generated by the novel coronavirus crisis.
Still, Bishop Tim’s outreach on social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram, have sent important messages of hope to isolated Catholics and the fearful public at a time of profound aloneness.
“I wanted to be as visible as possible especially in this pandemic,” Bishop Freyer says, “since Christ’s healing love is the message people most need these days.”
Noting our recent Easter Sunday celebrations, he notes, Christ has already won the victory of resurrection. “In order for us to get through this together, it’s important to ask Christ into our lives. As we reach out and support one another, we experience the peace only He can give.
“We know that He is always with us.”
While churches remain closed, priests are available to counsel and support parishioners and visitors by appointment and on the phone.
“We will continue to minister to our people,” Bishop Freyer declares. “The Church exists to serve you. Reach out – we are here.”
Some parishes are offering open-air and drive-through confessions, and individuals and families are praying more often, including reciting the Rosary alone or together.
Online content from parish priests, including inspirational daily video messages and livestreamed Masses, impresses Bishop Freyer.
“Our priests are really stretching themselves, being creative, and trying new things with zeal, humility, and a sense of humor.” In particular, he mentions efforts by Fr. Daniel Seo of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, Vocational Director Fr. Brandon Dang and his seminarians, and the staff of San Francisco Solano in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Homilies during Sunday Mass are usually seven minutes or so, Bishop Freyer notes, while social media messages must be concise.
“I’m not sure on any given day who will watch or what their experience of Christ is,” he explains. “On social media I make a conscious effort to make the messages as accessible as possible – using no jargon or vocabulary that might be off-putting to some people.”
People tell him they are afraid. “The lack of control we have over our lives weighs heavily on many people,” he says. “In this period of social isolation there is a lot of tension among families who are home all day every day with each other. And there is a lot more loneliness because people can’t see their coworkers or classmates – they are longing for human connections that we are missing right now.”
Bishop Freyer encourages people to talk to the Lord as if He is their closest friend. “Share your dreams, hopes, frustration, sadness and joy,” he recommends. “Tell Him what’s happening in your day, ask for what you need, and thank Him for the things He’s done for you. Just allow yourself to imagine that God is looking at you, completely in love with you as you are.”
The private and public comments responding to his social media efforts encourage him. “They’ll say, ‘That’s just what I needed to hear,’ and ‘What you said really touched my heart,’” he recalls. “Even though we are not together physically, spiritually we are still together.”
Presently he’s trying to relate the present COVID-19 pandemic to Scripture to illustrate how the Word of God can help in this challenging time. “In one recent post, I described how the disciples were locked in a room after Christ’s crucifixion,” he says, “because they feared the same thing would happen to them. The first words He says as He appears to them are ‘Peace be with you.’
“Ask for Christ’s peace to come reign in your homes,” he adds. “Scripture is not something that happened 2,000 years ago. It is alive for us today.”
A wide variety of people from different ages and disparate backgrounds are reading Bishop Freyer’s social media posts in English and Spanish.
“On Facebook it’s a different demographic than Instagram, which has a lot of young adults on its platform,” he notes. “I am challenged to keep up with the many messages, which ask me to pray for someone who’s just lost their job or others who want me to pray for their families.”
People respond from throughout Orange County, where he grew up, as well as from other states and even other countries. He recently completed the first Engaged Encounter weekend via Zoom and says he has received a great deal of positive feedback from participants.
“My hope is that our online efforts will continue once life gets back to normal,” Bishop Freyer says. “The messages of encouragement, the reflections on our experiences and our faith, have created the habit of getting in front of the camera and speaking from our hearts to help us stay connected.
“Even the homebound can see that their fellow parishioners still are with them.”