It has been over a month since public Masses were suspended in my diocese, and we’ve been living under quarantine for almost as long. My state has a stay-home order in place until June 10th, although, most of us are hoping that it will lift so it doesn’t crush already burdened families who cannot currently work to provide for their needs.
The spiritual and material weight of what is happening in this global pandemic is starting to weigh on people. Yes, it’s only been a month, but that month has been filled with news of deaths, illness, unemployment, panic, and fear. All of that takes a toll on us as human beings.
The other evening, my husband and I were discussing the air of tension we could feel building within our own family and those around us. The panic and fear has given way to irritability, and for some, despair. Families across the country—like us—are trying to school anxious children who are trying to understand and deal with the massive changes that took place overnight. Everyone is trying to keep track of the new information on preventing the spread of the virus and the media is driving untenable fear. For Catholics, we know that the fear is a form of spiritual warfare. Fear does not come from God. It is a tool the Enemy uses to sow division and discord.
With all of this tension building around us, what can we do when we are limited in our physical movements? How do we counteract this temptation and tendency to become irritable or overwhelmed by everything we are facing? The answer is prayer, but we may need to change our prayer routine in order to help combat the temptation to irritability and the struggle with monotony.
We are very blessed in my diocese. Our bishop has allowed parishes to remain open for prayer and our priests hear Confessions as long as they can follow state health guidelines. My two parish priests have been dedicated to hearing Confessions from the moment this began. My pastor is live-streaming both daily Mass and Sunday Mass. This means that there are many opportunities for parishioners to pray with Our Lord’s Real Presence and celebrate Mass at the spiritual level, even as we are not physically present.
Since this all began, I have committed to praying at least two hours a day in front of Our Lord’s Real Presence in the Tabernacle. My primary vocation is as such that I can do this pretty easily. I also take my daughter with me while my husband works from home or is the only one working in his office. Our routine has been the same for over a month even as the days have begun to blur together.
I hit a wall this week, however.
I realized that my daughter and I needed a bit of a change in order to help both of us re-charge from the burdens we all inevitably carry during this time. I decided that instead of going to our own parish, we would go to another one nearby and pray their new outdoor Stations of the Cross and I would pray my Rosary in the sunshine in front of the Tabernacle that the priest has made visible in the front entrance for 24-hour prayer from the parking lot. The two hours we spent in the sunshine with me in prayer and her playing and drawing nearby were exactly what was needed. We decided to make it a weekly venture moving forward as long as the weather is nice.
Part of the weightiness of the situation we are living in is that the days are no longer disciplined by what is normally required of us. There is a struggle to not fall into listlessness, complacency, or boredom. For myself, I’ve also been trying to avoid falling into the trap of watching too much television to pass the time, but I have failed at times with using social media too much. During this period of exile, we need to find new ways (or rediscover old ways) to pray and draw strength from Christ. Even a change of locale can do wonders.
Going for a walk while praying the Rosary, reading Sacred Scripture outside or even in our parked car overlooking the beach or a mountain vista, making more of an effort to pray in front of the Tabernacle—if possible—once or twice a week, and praying daily Mass can help all of us enter more deeply into union with God during this trying time. It’s also the perfect opportunity to do the spiritual reading we have been meaning to get to, but haven’t had the time. There are also many organizations and religious orders that are offering virtual retreats and talks online during this time. My personal favorite so far are the Quarantine Lectures being offered by The Thomistic Institute.
The most important thing for us to remember as we go through the coming weeks and months is that Christ is always calling us to Himself. Suffering is meant to draw us back to Him. It is difficult for us in our Fallen state to tell the difference between suffering as a punishment and suffering as a form of renewal and refinement. For those of us who are seeking His face and to be His disciples, we know that this present affliction is meant to test us and purify us in love for the greater glory of God.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 1:6-7
Christ is walking with us during this time, showing us that He is seeking to draw us into deeper union with Him. This is evident from the Mass Readings over the course of the last month. The reading from The First Letter of Saint Peter is from this past Sunday’s Second Reading. It applies directly to what we are experiencing globally during this pandemic.
As the weight of this exile from the Mass and the Sacraments gets heavier, let us remember to turn to Him in new ways in order to fight off monotony and irritability. We do need breaks from the tedium and isolation that we are all dealing with at present. There may be days when we need to change our prayer routine or the location of where we pray in order to draw strength from Him. When the weather is nice, it is the perfect time to pray while meditating on God’s glorious and beautiful Creation, even if it is from our own backyard.