I was driving to daily Mass at the Cathedral in Cleveland a few days ago when I got the call from my mom who painfully related the message that Mass is to be suspended indefinitely in our area, with most dioceses in the country issuing similar mandates and dispensations for our Sunday Mass obligation.
To be honest, I was shocked by my own fear and anger when I allowed this news to settle in my heart. These are unprecedented times we are living in. I have spent the last two weeks, like many people, going back and forth on my opinions of how bad this virus actually is. One minute I’m rejoicing for this extra time I get to spend with those close to me, thinking nothing of the reality of this sickness, the next I’m experiencing fear and panic because of the uncertainty of the next day, let alone month.
Coming to find Masses canceled all across the country and across the world I find myself asking the Lord, what are you doing in this? How are we going to get through this without coming together in communion for healing and prayer? If I had written this article earlier last week, you’d be hearing something different from me, but today, this is where I’m at …
This Isn’t Our First Rodeo
I was reading today about one of the worst viral outbreaks in history that devastated the Roman Empire from AD 249 to 262. It’s said that there were roughly five thousand people dying every day at the height of the plague. What made this epidemic so notable, though, was the difference between the actions and attitudes of the Christian faithful versus the pagan citizens of Rome. The Bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, wrote to describe what he saw take place with the non-believers during the epidemic:
“At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”
The pagan Emperor Julian began to grow unnerved with the lack of compassion he found among the non-Christians. He noted the difference in the Christians and became upset, saying, “it is a disgrace that … the impious Galilaeans (Christians) support not only their own poor but ours as well.” Hoping to stir the pagans into action—but to no avail. The Bishop of Alexandria said notably of the situation:
“Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
What a beautiful history to be a part of! This is our Church. These our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us and now give us an example to follow. We need to rid ourselves of paralyzing fear. I’m sure some of us have heard this, but Jesus says in the Gospels more times than anything else “Do not be afraid”. Why? Because we have “Hope … and hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). This anchor of hope in the promise of eternal life is what drove our church into the throws of death without fear during epidemics and in times of great persecution. We are not a people of self-preservation and self-motivation, we are a people who are called to lay down our lives the way our Savior did for us.
Christ Is Not Bound by the Sacraments
So here we are … being told to stay indoors and being barred from the Mass for the first time in … well, a long time. The sacraments have always been a source of healing for the broken and sick since the days of the apostles. Even in the midst of the early persecutions, the Church would gather underground and celebrate the sacraments. But we are being told to by those in authority in the Church to stay at home. It seems somewhat counter to what the Church was doing at that time of that previous epidemic. So where does that leave us?
While my opinion last week was that we should be getting to Mass even more and running to the sacraments like crazy, as the information has been unfolding about the facts of this COVID-19 spread it has been easier for me to stand with those in authority. I have come to the conclusion that maybe the braver and more selfless thing to do at this moment is not to attend Mass or gather in physical proximity as the body of Christ for the sake of the elderly in our churches and for the sake of containing this virus as much as possible.
I heard growing up that oftentimes the harder thing to do is usually the right thing. While that’s not true in every case, I think in this case we need to remember that the reason we’re doing this isn’t to stay away from each other or cut ourselves off from Jesus’ true presence, but to look out for the well-being of others like our Christian brothers and sisters did before us during persecution and sickness.
While Christ has given us the sacraments as a gift to participate in the divine life, Jesus is not bound by the sacraments. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says:
“God has bound salvation to the sacraments, but he himself is not bound by His sacraments.”CCC 1257
What a relief! This is a time for spiritual communion with one another and with Christ. The Church speaks a lot about the reality of something called the baptism of desire. What about a communion of desire? We can still experience the presence of Christ by making a spiritual communion with him and with each other. We can still draw closer to Christ in a new way.
Here are some things to remember:
We are not being barred from prayer. While we are experiencing physical distance, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue a Bible study over Facetime, say the Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet, pray the Liturgy of the Hours or read Scripture. In fact, I would say that although we are dispensed from attending Mass in the physical sense, we are not dispensed from keeping holy the Sabbath. I will be participating in Mass every Sunday (and hopefully even daily) through a spiritual act of communion and by reading the daily readings and participating in the Mass through the internet. I’ve even heard of some priests who are doing drive-thru confessions so as to continue to offer this sacrament to those in need! We have so many brave leaders in our Church. We need to pray for those who are first-responders to this crisis. This is the time where saints are born. This time is a gift! Let’s not waste it filling our time with needless worry or endless hours of electronics to keep us busy. We can choose to be even more intentional about our relationship with God!
Let’s mirror the early Christians. While we create physical distance so as to not spread this virus, it doesn’t mean we can’t do corporal works of mercy. I’ve heard of some people gathering prayer intentions, making calls to the elderly to offer words of encouragement, making meals and leaving them on the doorsteps of those who need it, donating clothing to Goodwill or writing letters to those in the prisons. As St. Therese showed us, we can do small things with great love. There is so much we can do at this time, we just need to ask the Holy Spirit for his inspiration.
Take heart, my friends.
“The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”Romans 8:18
Death and sickness do not have the final word. We have the victory of Christ as our banner and the glory of eternity as our final goal! We might not be able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist today, but we have the hope of receiving him forever in an even more complete and entire way when we feast together at the supper of the Lamb, and no virus can take that away from us. I can’t wait for that day! Let’s make that our focus, friends, as we continue to journey through these times. Our future might be uncertain, but the victory of Christ is a certainty to which we can fully surrender.
You May Also Like:
Taylor Tripodi is a twenty-something cradle Catholic from Cleveland, Ohio aspiring for sainthood. She graduated from Franciscan University, majoring in theology and catechetics and is now a full-time musician, traveling all over and spreading God’s unfailing love through word and song. In her spare time, she enjoys making scented candles, seeking adventure, and being present to her large, crazy, Italian family. Want to hear her sing? Check out www.taylortripodi.com.
You can now offer ongoing support for this content with a recurring gift.