God wants to meet you, right now, in whatever is weighing on your heart in these tumultuous times full of uncertainties.
In a long week that felt like a long year, our worlds were suddenly turned upside down. We have many fears about our jobs, our finances, our future. We’re concerned about health—what if I get this? What if someone I love gets this? Plans have had to be changed, events postponed and some of us don’t even know if we will have enough toilet paper!
On top of all that, the one place we turn in times of trouble is not open to all of us. In many places, churches have closed and public Masses have been canceled. The uncertainty of practically everything is most unsettling … And no one knows for sure when things will be back to normal.
What do we do in this new situation? How do we grow spiritually when we might not even be able to go to Mass?
God wants to meet us in our uncertainties, fears and disappointments. He wants to comfort us and help us carry the crosses we are facing. But he also wants to do some work in our souls right now. He’s inviting us to rely more on him and not on ourselves. Here are four things we can all do to encounter God precisely in these challenges, not in spite of them.
1. Look for the Deeper Problem: A Disease of the Heart
We all began Lent with our own planned sacrifices—maybe giving up our favorite food, drink, or show. That was our planned giving. But now God is inviting us to give up something that is so much harder and probably wasn’t on our radar screen on Ash Wednesday. He’s inviting us to give up our desire for security and control, to plan every detail of our lives. He’s inviting us to surrender more and truly entrust our lives to him.
There will always be suffering in this fallen world. But Jesus invites us to meet him in the midst of these trials, in the midst of these unexpected crosses. As Christian disciples, we must have confidence that God is still really in charge and he can use all the trials we face to bring about some greater good in our souls. He can even use all the chaos that the COVID-19 situation has had on our lives and the world.
This current crisis can reveal something about our hearts. There’s not just a problem out there in the world—a germ we fear getting, an economic fallout we dread, a sorrow over having all our plans disrupted. The COVID-19 situation also reveals certain problems in our own hearts, areas of our lives that God wants to heal.
Here are some important questions you can ask yourself: If God looked into your heart right now, would he find a heart full of peace? Would he find a heart full of confidence in his care for you? A heart that’s looking outward, full of love and concern for others? Take a moment to prayerfully consider these questions.
Moments of crisis reveal people’s character. They show what kind of man or woman someone really is and what he or she truly values most in life. Some will rise to the occasion and be a source of wisdom, comfort, peace, and encouragement for those around them. Others will be a slave to their own anxieties. They are not able to be instruments of God’s peace. They spread their own fears to others. Anxiety leads them to focus on self and not on God. Anxiety also leads them to focus on protecting themselves instead of caring for others who are in need and bringing Christ into other people’s burdens.
2. Fight against Your Fears
Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your lives…. ” (Matthew 6:25). Having genuine concern for your work, your finances, and your health is prudent. But we should never lose our peace and become anxious. Anxiety is never from God. It’s something we should bring to confession. The devil uses anxiety to rattle us, to get us to focus on ourselves, to lose hope, to be discouraged, to panic, to put ourselves first instead of thinking of others and working toward the common good.
When we find ourselves giving in to anxiety, we should treat that like the check-engine light going off in the car. Something is seriously off and needs to be fixed. How do you address those fears?
First, ask God what is at the root of this fear. Talk about it with a spiritual director, confessor, or mentor. Maybe there’s something Jesus is trying to show you about yourself—maybe you are afraid to trust in the Lord, maybe you seek your security more in your career and financial resources than you do in God.
Maybe God is revealing a certain self-centeredness, a “me first” mentality, that he wants to address. Maybe he’s showing you the fear of suffering, an attachment to this world’s honors and comforts, a need to control everything, a vulnerability to being emotionally shaken by certain anxious people, social media platforms, and media outlets from which you probably should be more detached.
Ask God what is the root of your fear and ask him to heal you of whatever is out-of-line in your soul. For anxiety is always pointing to some deeper problem within us.
Second, bring the Word of God into your fears. Pierce darkness of your anxieties with the light of Truth. Always remind yourself God is still in charge. He will look after you. Even if your worst fears come true, God will still care for you and bring some good out of whatever happens.
The devil knows our vulnerabilities and tries to exploit our anxieties. He wants to rattle us. To get us preoccupied with self in such a way that we’re not able to give the best of ourselves to the people around us and to God. To fight against those temptations, the Church Fathers said we need to “talk back” to those demons rattling us. We “talk back” with the Word of God.
So the next time you notice yourself getting anxious about what’s happening, pray a line from Scripture like “The Lord is my shepherd” or “Jesus Christ is Lord” or the line from the Divine Mercy chaplet: “Jesus I trust in you”—something that proclaims the truth of how Jesus is in charge and how God will care for us in all things.
3. Radiate the Peace which Surpasses All Understanding
In these troubled times, let our Christian joy be a witness and encouragement to those around us, especially those who need their spirits uplifted right now. Many people need to be reminded of these basic Christian convictions just as much as we do. They need to be touched by the peace and courage that reigns in our hearts in these troubled times. So, with St. Paul, let us rejoice knowing that the Lord is always at hand, guiding our lives and leading us to what is truly best for us, even if we don’t always see it at the time:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:4-7
4. Give God Worship, Even If You Can’t Go to Mass
If you live in an area without public Masses on Sunday, there are powerful ways you can still keep holy the Lord’s Day.
You could pray the Liturgy of the Hours, known as morning or evening prayer, and join the prayer of the entire Church as thousands of priests, religious and many laity throughout the world offer these prayers to God each day.
You can do a Celebration of the Word of God in your home so that you continue to pray in the spirit and the rhythm of the liturgy and the readings from Mass.
You can watch a Mass on TV, online, or on social media. That’s what we did. On Sunday, our family assembled in the living room to watch on Facebook live our parish priest celebrating Mass. Even though it was on a screen, we still wanted to make it a sacred time and a sacred space—a time and space set apart, markedly different from the rest of our day. We had everyone dress up a bit. We gathered around our computer screen, but put a crucifix next to it and lit a candle. Time and space were set apart.
When the Mass began, we made the Sign of the Cross with our pastor. We sat, stood, knelt, and recited all the prayers just as we would have if we were there at the parish with him. (Listen to my podcast on The Coronavirus and Missing Mass.)
Most of all, you can make a spiritual communion. When the Mass we were watching came to the part for the Eucharist to be given, we all recited a spiritual communion prayer. This is the traditional practice of expressing one’s desire to be united with Jesus in Holy Communion which many saints have recommended. It’s a very good habit to cultivate throughout our lives—not just during a coronavirus outbreak. Expressing and deepening our desire to be united with our Beloved Jesus draws us closer to him spiritually, even if we can’t receive Him sacramentally. It’s not just for Sunday. Do it every day. Do it in the morning when you wake. Do it before you go to bed at night. Unite yourself to Our Lord spiritually.
Here’s the prayer we recited:
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
And I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
Come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
And unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
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