Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic has made us reflect on what is most important in life. During Lent, The Compass offers an eight-part Lenten series of reflections on how readers can take their experiences from 2020 and apply them to Lent and Easter 2021.
For many people, the past year was one long Lent. The continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the quarantine that followed in its wake, have brought about much fear, anxiety and suffering. A lot of people in our country have been brought to the brink of despair and hopelessness. The loss is real and palpable. We think of those who lost livelihoods and loved ones and have had to celebrate funerals without the support of friends and family.
I remember a particularly sad case in our parish when I had to celebrate a funeral service for one of my adult servers at the local funeral home. This was when the fear and anxiety of the pandemic were at their peak, a few weeks into lockdown. At the time, there were so many unanswered questions about the coronavirus’ mode of transmission, in addition to health and safety regulations that seemed to change daily. Hence, only a handful of immediate family members were allowed to be present. I realized that, under normal circumstances, her funeral would have taken place at our parish church with many people in attendance since she was deeply respected and loved in our community.
It truly broke my heart to realize that she would have loved nothing more than to have a funeral Mass in church with the parish community gathered in prayer, commending her soul to the mercy and tenderness of God, and supporting her loved ones with our prayers and affection. Sad as it was, however, it was the prudent thing to do as we continued to work out the details of how to celebrate funerals safely in church while complying with diocesan and state health regulations.
There are also those who grieve the loss of a sense of community and of gathering weekly for the Holy Eucharist in their parish churches. This pain has been deeply felt by so many. In one of the letters I received, a parishioner bemoaned this situation, writing that she had not known that she would miss going to Mass so much until she could not come anymore. Perhaps this Eucharistic hunger and fast that many experienced could be valuable and spiritually enlivening, leading us to a deeper Eucharistic appreciation, reverence and awe.
We are a Eucharistic community because the Holy Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Although many parishes, including ours, quickly learned about livestreaming Masses during this time, we know well that it is not the same as being physically present in church. As one writer has noted, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist calls for our own real presence at the celebration.
Much ink has been spilled on the toll the pandemic and its losses have taken on our mental, emotional, spiritual, financial and physical health. These experiences will undoubtedly make our Lenten journeys different this year. Perhaps, our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving will take on new meanings this year. Considering all that we have experienced in the past year, these questions present themselves: What have we learned from the previous year that we might carry forward in our lives of faith? What insights might we have gained during this difficult year to help us live as missionary disciples?
One lesson for me is that I have been challenged to grow and to dig deeper into my relationship with Christ and those I am called to serve. I have had long stretches of time to sit in contemplative prayer in an empty church and pour out my frustrations, fears and anxieties to God. Some of the most meaningful conversations I have had in my ministry took place during this time, primarily via emails and phone calls. Learning more about technology and livestreaming has been one of those areas of growth.
A second lesson I learned was that we yearn for authentic and true communion, found in a Eucharistic community gathered in prayer. Online Masses and livestreamed adoration can be helpful in the meantime, but we all know that they are no substitute for being physically present. It is this longing for an authentic community of faith, hope and love — which is realized in an engaged and active parish — that gives me the confidence that a good number will return to Mass.
Finally, I have learned to focus more on the essentials, while relying on others for help and assistance. At the height of the lockdown, I was blessed by the effort of a small group of volunteers who helped to livestream liturgies, served or read at Mass, and phoned parishioners. These periodic phone calls meant a lot to our parishioners, and many have shared with me how comforting it was for them. Since we are all members of the one body of Christ, as St. Paul wisely teaches in 1 Cor 12:12, we need each other for support.
May we live this unique Lenten season with our eyes fixed on the hope and new life of Christ’s resurrection. This is because, amid the ravages of grief and loss, pain and suffering, we can see with the eyes of faith, the triumph this Easter of life over death.
Fr. Amadi serves as pastor of St. Mary Parish, Algoma.
Here are links to earlier columns.