Sunday, March 22, 2020

And It Became Real. A Reflection on Laetare Sunday, 2020


Several times this week, Monsignor and I have mumbled aloud words to the effect of “This doesn’t feel real” and “What an indescribable time,” often punctuated by lengthy (sometimes unending) pregnant pauses—quiet, which we both know is quite loud, if only we could put to words the wordless thoughts. This entry is my attempt.

It has been a long, long week. And I feel like how I did when, in college, I would stay up all night writing a paper: the night would pass, I would grab my paper from my printer, and then open the door to the outside world and -- and then, in the too-tired stupor, the light of the day would hit and I would squint and there would be a kind of fizzle or hum in the air: sleep had passed and the night had passed and there I stood, out of place, having worked when I should have slept, and wanting sleep when I needed to work. It was college dis-orientation. 

It’s the best way that I can describe the totality of my feelings.

To quote Monsignor, again, "It is 9/11, but in slow motion."

Like most of you, it has been a week of thoughts, racing thoughts, and emotions. I have felt sadness and anger, anxiety and fear, deep peace and trust, a longing-ness, a tiredness, and a deep sense that the Divine is at work in a way that some may call this time (and its opportunities for growth and holiness and love) “privileged.” Those “some” who do so right now are on their way to being saints; those “some” who do so later are either the damned—or historians. May we be those who see the privilege of this time in the present “now.”

With that, I am going to simply free-write several of the things that have hit me during this past week. I kind of write them for myself, but also with the hope that maybe one of you may benefit from this. I’m not going to worry about length; time, it seems, has been lengthened for us all. They aren’t really connected—this is more of a “shotgun” approach—but they kind of are connected. At any rate……

***

Several months ago, I relayed to my staff at Saint Theodore parish that I was thinking about calling a “Year for Healing” starting in the schoolyear of 2020-2021. I had, in past years, called for a Year for Vocations and a Year for Prayer and, at the end of 2019, I was sensing in my prayer that there would be a need for a Year for Healing. Admittedly, I thought this was being given to me because there were certain things in the parish that needed divine healing.

But then I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And the first stop was Magdala, the place where Mary Magdalene was healed. And, in my homily there—the first homily on the pilgrimage—I told everyone: “I feel as though God is going to bring healing to some of you in a powerful way in the days ahead.” (I had forgotten that the first person to whom a preacher preaches is himself). When I returned to the States, I found myself asking to be moved from my parish because I, myself, wanted healing in my life. The “Year for Healing,” I realized, was more for me.

But then this past week happened. And I realized that my Year for Healing that had plagued my thoughts and prayers for most of Advent 2019 was meant not only for Saint Theodore and not only for me, but for all. The Year of Grace, 2020 AD, will be a Year of Healing for everyone.

***

If you are anxious, let me introduce you to St. Dymphna, the patroness of those who are anxious.

If you are wondering how your prayers can change the world when you are in the “cloister” of your own home, let me introduce you to St. Therese of Lisieux. She, a cloistered nun, became the Patroness of the Missions. Oh, and she also battled the horrible illness of the lung, tuberculosis.

***

For those of you who are homeschooling for the first time, let me pass along a note from a homeschooling family: “Hang in there. What you are doing is heroic and is beyond what we did. I mean, when we decided to homeschool, we spent months researching and getting ready and searching textbooks and testing the schedule and the home and so on. You have been thrown into this. And with little time to prep and test and so on. You are heroes. Be patient with yourself and with your children. It’s going to be a mess. And that’s ok. If your children emerge from this knowing that they are loved and that this was a time to grow as a family and in prayer, then you all get As.”

***

When we emerge from this, I want an evangelizing effort that heals the social ills exposed by Coronavirus and which is all the more contagious.

***

I wrote in my last public homily that I believed the upcoming days could act as a great purifying and a great deepening of our love for three things: Jesus present in the Eucharist; Jesus present in the community; and Jesus present in the poor. I think this is still very true and for all the reasons I mentioned.

What I did not realize was how the first private Mass (on Tuesday) would affect me.

What affected me was not simply that people weren’t there. What affected me were two things:

1)      I could not escape Jesus.

I’ve been a priest for nine years and although at Holy Mass I am almost scrupulous about focusing on Jesus and keeping Him first, the reality is also that I worry about the performative dimension of Mass. I don’t “perform” like an person in theatre (the Mass isn’t about me), but I do worry about basic things: Can people understand the prayers; how can I lead them better in prayer to Jesus; let them adore the consecrated host, but remember to keep going because people have to work; etc.

And that performative dimension does take a toll: by small, imperceptible increments, the priest is slowly taken away from the deep intimacy with Jesus that was pure, clear, and total at the First Mass.

To some degree, this is understandable—priests, after all, love their flock and they don’t really make sense without a flock. But, to some degree, it is a great, great temptation, the likes of which we see in that some priests refuse to offer Holy Mass without a flock; they are lost without a kind of audience.

In other words, not only have us priests lost—small or large—that Christocentric focus, we have also forgotten the invisible audience, the angels and saints that are at every Mass, and that, ultimately, a reverent, lovingly-prayed, Jesus-first Mass is what everybody wants and, as we have seen this week, needs.

As I offered Mass by myself—with the angels and saints in the invisible ether above—I could not escape Jesus.

And it was wonderful. And terrifying. And I realized I needed to do penance. For myself, for other priests. And I needed to pray for those priests who, because they didn’t have people in the pews, would be tempted to not offer Mass at all, thinking that these Holy Services didn’t matter unless people were there.

This brings me to the second thing that affected me:

2)      I got to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

I don’t know why Jesus chose me to be a priest—I mean, we can all come up with reasons why we think God chose a certain man—but, I don’t know why; yes, it is pure love; or, as Pope Saint John Paul II said, it is “gift and mystery.”

I experienced both.

As every other lay person is kept from Holy Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I do not know why God the Father has so chosen me to be able to receive when so many cannot. I want to think: God is choosing me because He has a great mission for me. But, really, when it comes down to it, He wants a deep, deep intimacy with His priests—an intimacy which is not the same with others (just like it wasn’t the same with the disciples as compared to the Apostles). I don’t know why this is; but I know that it is and that, of all things, I am to sit with that and receive that and be changed by that. And I ask you to pray for priests: that they may know this and receive this.

Because, well, many of us have lost that Eucharistic impulse. We, of all people, are supposed to have the most intimate, intimate of relationships with Jesus in the Eucharist. And it is so, so easy for us to lose that and to be distracted by the myriad of other things—worthy things, admittedly, but of nowhere near as great of import as the union that Jesus offers. I mean, this is His heart that He is offering us priests. And, to reference the great book, “In Sinu Jesu,” many priests are too busy to visit the very source and meaning of their vocation, the Eucharist.

This is why we get to receive and you don’t—because so many of us are not configured enough, or maybe have even lost sight of, the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus—and Jesus is healing us priests.

While everyone is quarantined, priests need to be rediscovering the Holy Hour (cf. the book “The Priest Is Not His Own,” by Fulton Sheen) and, I think, in the hours he has free now because he has so little organized group activities, the priest should be striving for Holy Hours in the days ahead.

***

We began Lent with Jesus entering alone into the desert for 40 days. Lent, minus the Sundays, is 40 days. It is a season of repentance for not having loved God and neighbor, for having lost sight of them, for not having them be the priority. It is a time to battle temptation. It is a time when Jesus was alone.

Quarantine comes from the Italian, “quarentina.” And it means … get this: 40 days.

To quarantine someone literally means to give them 40 days alone.

I cannot help but think that the world—and not just Catholics—have all been given this 40-Day Lenten Season. And why? To rediscover God and neighbor, to make them a priority, and to repent for not having done so in time past.

It is a Lent in which we will face temptation. To simply waste the time, to pass the time, to wish it were over.

And I can tell you, the temptation Numero Uno that you are going to face is this: the temptation to feel useful … and busy.

But here’s the thing: we’ve been too busy. And we’ve lost sight of the more important things in life. And we are being given a “fast” from all of that.

Let me be blunt here: We are all in detox.

We need to detox from the craziness of life pre-March 2020, that life where we were hectic and burned out and wandering and soul-less and not cognizant of neighbor or poor or elderly or parish or prayer or spouse or …..

And we are being given a moment to breathe. And to rest. To rest for all of the Sundays that we didn’t rest. And to read again. And to pray again. And to visit Jesus again.

In a word, we are being given a chance to just…..

Be.

And, oh! That’s the hardest part of life! To emerge from “lives of quiet desperation.” Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to rediscover contemplation, thought, proximity to nature, and solitude—that is, those places where there has been Someone always waiting for us, waiting, waiting……

And that leads me to another thought:

For devout Catholics, in addition to Lent, you are experiencing Advent, too.

Here’s why: Advent is called a Season of Preparation and a Season of Waiting.

I say you are experiencing Advent these days because you are waiting—waiting, specifically, to receive Jesus again. This Sunday may have been the first time that this really hit home, this waiting.

Waiting is not easy. To wait is to be patient. Patience comes from the Latin “patior” meaning “To suffer.” To wait means to suffer. And, strangely, a person who is in a hospital is called a “patient.”

For a long time, Jesus has been waiting for us in the tabernacle, waiting for us in the poor, waiting for us in our heart. There has been a suffering of love in His heart for us while we have been busy, distracted, elsewhere.

But, Advent isn’t only a season of waiting and preparation. It is also a Season of Hope: Jesus is coming. Indeed, He is here.

Devout Catholics: visit Jesus in the tabernacle! As you wait for Him in communion, wait with Him in the tabernacle!

And I know: in the meantime, while you cannot receive Him but only spiritually, you will be suffering. To this, I remember one of the things a counselor once told me, “Father, the worst kind of suffering is wasted suffering.” That is, the worst kind is the kind that is seen as meaningless.

For Catholics, suffering—waiting—is never meaningless. And not for the reason you might think.

When Jesus is on the Cross, He is bringing souls to heaven.

When Jesus gives you the Cross, He is asking you to join Him in that work of bringing souls to heaven.

Which means that He loves you and that He trusts you to do the work.

If you are suffering or waiting or called to be patient or a patient, you have been given this mission. Therefore, pray this prayer: “Heavenly Father, in great love you have called me to this moment. Turn my suffering into grace for those souls that need your mercy. Bring them to heaven. Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit!”

What a great hopefulness there is here!—and this is something we desperately need in these times.

***

I am looking forward to when this Coronavirus thing is over. While I was looking forward to an absolutely amazing Easter, I must now look forward to an amazing Pentecost or an amazing Corpus Christi (which is, honestly, my bet on when we will be back at church—and wouldn’t that be an appropriate day? the day of the Eucharistic Procession….)

I am looking forward to that day. And oh, what a great party we are going to have here in Florissant!!!

I look forward, but I also know this:

Laetare means “rejoice.” Laetare is always said on this particular weekend in Lent. On this first Sunday when we don’t have public Masses, God has so ordained it that the Mass proclaims: “Rejoice.”

How odd! … And why? Why this message?

On the one hand, it is to remind us that Lent is almost over.

But, even more, it is to remind us that Jesus is already risen. The suffering of the Cross has already been turned into victory.

Laetare Sunday, therefore, is to be a moment of great hope. The party in heaven has already begun; the suffering is already over; the world and all its fears and illnesses and evils—well, let me quote Jesus, “Be of good cheer, little flock. I have overcome the world!”

Yes, some that have died in these days are in heaven.

Do not forget that.

Yes, there is suffering. But don’t forget heaven. And that some are already there.

Indeed, no matter where we are, this Sunday arrives and tells us: YOU KNOW THE END OF THE STORY. YOU KNOW HOW THESE DAYS AND WEEKS AND MONTHS WILL END!

The Resurrection. The Resurrection!

So, no matter where you are and what you are experiencing, you have reason: Laetare! Rejoice!

***


"This week, it became real."

For many, the “it” means the effects of the Coronavirus: the extent of the spread; the financial impact, etc.

For me, however, the “it” means the Cross and Resurrection—otherwise known as the Paschal Mystery.

I knew it was real. But here it is in these days. We live in times of the Cross and Resurrection; of suffering, but of glory; of opportunities of holiness and living expressions of holiness; of death and of heaven.

I pray that for many this week the “it” of our faith became real…. "This week, it became real"

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