In the United States, most states have cancelled schools, are encouraging working from home, and social distancing measures. In some areas the economy is being impacted and those who work in service related jobs are finding themselves unable to work. As of this writing, over 100 dioceses have suspended all public Masses, ministries, Adoration, and in some cases, even the Sacrament of Confession. People are being told to stay home and isolate themselves from everyone else.
While it is true that we can view this as a great Lent and deeper call to meet Our Lord in the desert, it is also an exile of sorts. We are being separated from the Real Presence of Christ and the “source and summit of the Christian life” in the Mass. The spiritual dimensions of all of this are deep and much of it is being ignored or missed in the wake of the panic and fear; two mechanisms the devil uses to scatter and divide the flock.
Our response to this pandemic must be primarily spiritual. We cannot view it from a purely material perspective. Yes, we must seek to protect the most vulnerable among us and do our part for the common good, but we must also be resigned to God’s will in all of this and seek His face. We must view it through the eyes of faith, not through panicked eyes staring at the storm raging in the material realm at present. We must meet this scourge with fervent, confident prayer.
One of the greatest dangers we are facing as a result of the isolation of the flock from our shepherds, is that many of the faithful could fall away if our leaders do not act decisively with supernatural faith, an abundance of charity, and confident hope. Our shepherds cannot leave us to our Netflix and Hulu accounts.
Our priests must call us to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and find new and creative ways to minister to the flock. Show us that you are strong shepherds who are completely dependent on Christ. We must see the strength of your faith, so that we can be strengthened in our own faith. St. Paul’s exile from the Romans is a perfect example to us as we await the moment when we can be reunited with our shepherds:
First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is heralded throughout the world. God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in proclaiming the gospel of his Son, that I remember you constantly, always asking in my prayers that somehow by God’s will I may at last find my way clear to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.Romans 1:8-12
Priests must intercede on our behalf in the Mass and in fervent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We cannot come before Our Lord’s Real Presence right now, which means our spiritual fathers should be praying with Him even more. This is a spiritual war and we need our priests fighting for, and with us. We in the laity need to view this time as a period of battle in prayer and we must also pray for our priests and bishops to be strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit.
A priest’s strength does not come from himself, but from Christ alone. Yes, the task is monumental, but it is an opportunity for the clergy to accept that they are nothing—like the rest of us—and it is precisely in this nothingness that Christ will give you, His priests, the strength to lead us through the power of the Cross. It is now time for our shepherds to fully surrender in love and trust to Christ Crucified in order to lead us to the foot of the Cross.
“The Church’s place is at the Cross of Jesus Christ: in communion with him, in communion of the Cross; fruitfulness can come only from this place. The worlds needs compassion, but an active compassion that draws the sufferings of the world into God’s compassion with us—and thus into love, the only thing that transforms and redeems suffering and, yes, makes it valuable.”Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today, 109.
The typical response to suffering is fear and a desire to do anything possible to avoid the pain it causes us. In our own culture, suffering is seen as the greatest evil that must be thwarted and destroyed at all costs. This is, of course, an illusion since suffering is an inevitable and unavoidable aspect of our Fallen human experience. We will all suffer and we will all die.
What we need most in the world in response to widespread suffering, is for you to guide us to the foot of the Cross and to lift high the Cross in these difficult days. It is at the foot of the Cross that our suffering makes sense—even if we do not have all of the answers—because it is in the suffering of Christ Crucified that love is unleashed into the world. Our suffering is transformed into love when we unite our trials to Christ Crucified for the salvation of souls. Our love and surrender to the suffering of our own crosses will lead others to find salvation in Christ Crucified during a period of great uncertainty. The world needs Jesus Christ.
Now is a time when we can see even more clearly the universal suffering of human beings through this global pandemic. It is always the case, but the rapid spread of this virus sheds a light on how connected we are to one another. The massive suffering and fear that is enveloping so many people and that has both necessarily and unnecessary driven us into isolation, means that our shepherds must lift up the Cross and show us the transformative power of Christ’s suffering and death. It is through the Cross that we come to the Resurrection. There is no way around it and this period of global suffering in solidarity demonstrates this reality to us. We must be a people of the Cross.
We desperately need you as our priests and bishops to lead us to the foot of the Cross so that we can surrender to Him. In doing so, we can be set free from the fear and panic, strengthened in our afflictions, and perfected in love and you as our priests can be more closely configured to Christ on our behalf.
“He who wants to do away with suffering must first do away with love. For love includes the fruitful transformation of suffering, without which there can be no alchemy of our heart, so to speak, by which we are drawn into God’s love, by which we are drawn out of ourselves and thus become free for each other by God’s power…Only by drawing the suffering of the world into the divine compassion, into the Body that is the space of his love, does a healing transformation of the world occur: the redemption of man.
That is why part of the priest’s mission is to suffer with the Lord, to understand the world’s suffering, to help bear it, and to commend it to Christ, to place it into his redeeming love.”Ibid, 110.
The Cross typically results in two responses. The first is to flee, which we are seeing in massive numbers right now. The other, what we must be doing, is seen in Our Lady, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene. When we remain stand-fast and endure the Cross, we enter into deep communion with God and experience His great love for us. God’s love and communion is then unleashed into the world through the grace He gives to us.
From the Cross, Christ entrusted the priesthood to His mother. May Our Lady of Sorrows guide our priests and bishops to lead us to the foot of the Cross with supernatural faith, hope, and charity in these coming weeks and months. Countless souls are depending on you.