Welcome to Groundhog Day, Coronavirus Christian style 2020. It’s Holy Saturday, which every year for me is the oddest day of the year. If a church door is open, Jesus seems so far. He is not in the tabernacle. Because He has died. He has died for us. Every year, I feel as though this knowledge will drive me wild. I killed Jesus because of my sins. Lousy, miserable, ungrateful sins. And now He’s gone.
Except I know the whole story. And I remember that just a few weeks ago, during this Coronavirus agony, we marked the feast of the Annunciation. (He is on His way.) That’s the patronal feast day of the Sisters of Life, who I consider New York’s Greatest. And they are, in a way, the living patrons of our time. Think about it, we are fearing death. But we are fearing sickness and death at the same time that abortion clinics in many states remain open, qualifying under essential services. I can’t help but wonder if God allows this current crisis so that we might come to long to protect life like the Sisters of Life do.
And another thing about the Sisters of Life, as I half pray with them as I write – their mother house and main base of operations is in New York—their Denver sisters are livestreaming their Tenebrae prayers as I write. The Lamentations of these Triduum days each year get me to another year. For the fact of the matter is, this virus has put all the cards on the table for many of us. We go through our days acting out a part of someone who has their act together – which really means has things in control. And that is certainly a lie. We had no more control over our lives two months ago when we were making solid plans than we do now when uncertainty surrounds us and maybe even sometimes seems to be suffocating us. (The suffocation is a lie, too! Breathe! Remember that both Easter and Passover are about freedom from slavery! Let’s insist on it, together!)
And the thing that worries me more than this damned virus is the thought that many if not most who are not suffering from it are going through the motions, performing their duties, and waiting it out only to return to life as we knew it. That is: The lie. Some people are in a little bit of location change, working even harder than usual to assure their employers they are indispensable. Others are in some forced seeming vacation time, making the best use of it, or drinking the time away. When I hear people joking about the latter, I fear a little cry for help in it, too. For all of us, whether we are drinking or not. Pope Francis used the word “anesthetize” when he was in Washington, D.C. a few autumns ago to describe our cultural condition and he used it again just a few weeks ago when he gathered so many of us together according to the social-distancing rules virtually for that prayer service at an empty St. Peter’s. This is what people do when they can deal with the reality that not one single one of us is in control.
So, Good Friday going into Holy Saturday this year, going into the night hours when “Alleluia!” will be proclaimed tonight by people watching Easter Vigil Masses in their living rooms with their children or alone on their phones is a wild, dramatic opportunity. The invitation is to one and for all say, “Yes, I am a weak sinner in need of a Savior.” And “Alleluia!” He is real. He is near. He is victor.
This Lent for me morphed big-time into something like agony. My suffering didn’t have to because I couldn’t get to my books on Amazon as quickly as I used to or suddenly my schedule was wiped clean of travel. My tears are about those sins. As I long for the Eucharist, I realize that I never deserved Him in the first place. One time would be the most amazing gift. And in life the way it used to be, I would receive Him every day. That love of the cross? It’s gratuitous! Christmas, Good Friday, Easter – it’s all a good and gracious God who has got to love us or it is utter madness. And the flip side of that, is that our lives are not meaningless. It all makes sense when you walk through these days with Jesus. When you sit with His mother and weep in prayer a little. Or a lot. Maybe that all comes much more naturally this year. Maybe that’s why it has to be.
Have we been Christians going through the motions – at best, on a good day? Will that change now?
It has to. But the transformation is a choice.
I can’t stop thinking too, of people in agony long before Coronavirus. Those who have been and are being abused. The persecuted. I can’t receive Jesus in the Eucharist this Easter. For some, going to Mass any Sunday is putting their lives on the line. We pray for Christian unity every Good Friday. Now we have the opportunity to truly live it.
One of the things that has moved my heart the most is seeing families posting their pictures of gathering – as Dad washes feet or everyone is praying around the livestream Mass. I praying those scenes lead the way to renewal. And for some overflowing of graces for those families who feel like they are on the brink. Or the children without families – that more families will step up to the plate. There is so much happening we don’t see right now. As we seek the fullest freedom, pray for them, ask for doors to open for them. Maybe we’ll be the ones opening doors because this time was a time of liberation all around.
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