I think it can be universally agreed that the pandemic has changed the world. Physically, we are separated from society in general but also from friends and even some family members. We are accepting that to be in groups of more than ten people can somehow put us in greater risk of being infected with a virus that will have an unknown effect on us. We may become slightly sick or we may progress to a critical stage that may lead to our death. Instead of friendliness, there is frightened look on many people’s faces. Many are anxious and even scared. A cough in public may lead to a concerned stare and even criticism.
Mentally, our thoughts can run from concern to dread. Trying to remain reasonable has its challenges when news reports tend to report incomprehensible numbers of people who may become sick and die to reports of peaks being reached and numbers declining. We can find ourselves dwelling on what will happen in the next weeks or even days. Thoughts of weeks at home without being able to freely move and enjoy our lives can be depressing. Wedding have been postponed. First Communions and Confirmations have been delayed. It is so sad to see people buried without a gathering for a funeral mass. Young people who have looked forward to graduation, proms, and senior sports seasons have lost those events. Though some people see these as trivial in the great scheme of things, to these young people it is their lives in the present time. They will have a lifetime to worry about bigger events but for now these are their concerns. College graduates who are looking for their first job will be greatly hampered by an ecomony that is drastically slowing down. Companies that have a skeleton crew with many people working from home will be unlikely to spend time trying to hire new employees. I think of the seminarians who are set to be ordained in May. Can a large gathering in a Cathedral take place so soon? Even if they were to be ordained privately with just their family present, they would miss the great joy of a filled church rejoicing in the ordination of a new priest. Can a diocese risk having all their priests present at an ordination to concelebrate and welcome the new priest? A graduation and even a wedding can be held at a later date, but a priest’s first mass is only once. I don’t think a new priest would or even could wait weeks to celebrate his first mass.
In a spiritual sense, things have also changed. Public masses have been suspended with only private masses being allowed. The faithful have been asked to offer this as a Eucharistic fast. Online masses, Stations of the Cross, meditations and other resources have boomed. Though this is not the same as being physically present for mass, it does give people an opportunity to participate spiritually. One thing I have noticed when viewing the daily masses in our diocese and on the major Catholic organizations is the number of people who have viewed them. I would guess that a typical weekday mass in a small to medium parish does not have hundreds of attendees. The number of people who are watching these daily masses usually number in the hundreds and even thousands. When we return to actually being able to attend mass in person, I hope some of these livestreamed masses will continue. I don’t mean that this is a substiute for attending in person, but if someone who is not able to physically go to mass will watch online there must be some benefit to them.
Being forced to stay at home has been an opportunity for more prayer, scripture reading, reciting the rosary, novenas and reading spiritual books. I am hoping that when people see how little TV, movies and watching sports really benefits them, they will continue to spend their time more wisely in the future. This is not the time to regress to our old ways but to build new habits that will help us to grow in our relationship with God.
Many times we don’t appreciate what we have until it is taken away. Attending mass can become routine if we let it but when we can’t attend we truly yearn for the Heavenly banquet here on earth. Friends and family can be taken for granted but when we are separated we learn how much those relationships mean to us. Material possessions can make our lives easier but they can also become a burden that rules our lives as we try to maintain them.
The coronavirus is no doubt a terrible event that has caused much sickness, death, unemployment, financial hardships, stress and anxiety. But with all things, God can bring good out of hardships, trials and suffering. His suffering on the cross on this Good Friday resulted in the salvation of the world with his resurrection.
The world will emerge from this pandemic. You will not be the same. How will you be different? What are you doing to become the person God wants you to be?