Yesterday the Bishop of Charleston closed down our parish and school because of the coronavirus, so like many people I’m “working from home.” I must admit yesterday I was rather despondent. As a Catholic priest I celebrate the sacraments and “do my job”. I am often frustrated and sometimes angry with what seems to me incompetence and indifference around me. I’m even more frustrated with my own failures and sins. At times this feeling infects my enthusiasm for my vocation and I feel that I am just going through the motions or even putting on an act which has little depth or substance. I celebrate Mass as faithfully as I can, but often I don’t feel anything–don’t feel close to Jesus and Mary and don’t have what I have learned Catholics call “consolations.” But one continues on. Faith is stronger than all that.
But yesterday, at the prospect of not being able to say Mass for my parish I became quite emotional. Tears welled up more than once that afternoon, and I guess I was learning that it did matter to me after all. It mattered quite a lot. So I resolved to do the best I can in the midst of the lockdown so many of us are experiencing and use the extra time to encourage the flock. This Lockdown Diary will reach not only my own folks in the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, South Carolina, but the thousands who read this blog worldwide.
The idea of the Lockdown Diary is to share some inspiration and thoughts about life in lockdown, drawing on the monastic traditions of the church. So in addition to the thoughts about my own life at this time I’ll also be sharing some ideas about Benedictine/monastic spirituality along with some beautiful pictures of monastic life. This connects with one of the Archived Articles channels on the blog called “Suburban Hermit” which specifically deals with monastic spirituality. These blog posts will also be posted there.
Because it is a diary I’ll be sharing my own thoughts and feelings, and offer some encouragement to others who are feeling alone, frightened and upset by the sudden calamity that has hit our world. I’ll also be offering some suggestions on resources to use at home and some prayer ideas. I hope you find the Lockdown Diary useful, and if you do that you will share and pass it on to others, and lets hope the lockdown doesn’t go on too long because I’ll probably run out of ideas or (more likely) get bored and want to move on to some other project.
I celebrated our final public Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary yesterday morning at 8:30. We were expecting the close down of weekend Masses, and had come up with a plan for our people to attend weekday Masses on a scheduled basis according to geographical areas. Alas, the bishop’s decision was for a total closure, and I think he and the other bishops were right to make this decision. At that Mass one of the women attending thanked me for my homily on Saturday evening when I addressed the pandemic. I didn’t record the homily, and I always preach without notes so there was no record of it, but I thought I’d recreate the basic outline here as part of my first Lockdown Diary.
As usual there were three points beginning with the same letter. (The alliteration so beloved of Evangelical preachers dies hard!) The first word was Fear. It’s natural to feel fear when faced with a crisis like this. Fear is an emotion, and by definition we have little control over our emotions. Like instincts, they come upon us and are often not only unexpected, but powerful and irrational. That’s why they’re emotions not thoughts. Emotions spring from the depth of our being–from the deep sub-linguistic part of our minds…from the darkness of the deep. Fear is one of the most elemental of emotions, and what do we fear? We fear the unknown. There is much that is unknown about this virus and the spread of the pandemic. We fear illness and death for ourselves and our loved ones. That’s natural. We fear possible economic and social breakdown, chaos, violence and even war which may result from a prolonged crisis. Fear is natural, so how do we deal with it?
The second word was Foolishness because fear is irrational the reactions of many people in the face of fear are–guess what?–irrational. We respond to the fear with foolishness. There are various kinds of foolishness on display in the face of the present fear. Buying a truckload of toilet paper is foolishness. Buying thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer is foolishness. It is foolish to spread rumor and gossip and feed the fear of ourselves and others. It is also foolish to spread conspiracy theories which have little basis in evidence, facts or common sense–and even if they were true there isn’t anything you can do about it. Likewise it is foolish to deny the problem exists. All of us were inclined to do this at first “Oh, this problem isn’t any worse than any other flu…” It’s natural to respond like that. It was my first response too. However, it is foolish to continue with that attitude and foolish to behave as if nothing is wrong. We all hope our concerns are an over reaction, but it’s better to take radical action than to wish we had.
The third word was Faith. I’m convinced that people of faith have better resources to cope with both the Fear and the Foolishness. This article I wrote for The Stream outlines ten reasons why people of faith cope with a crisis better than those with no faith. Very simply, people of faith have a wider vision of themselves, human history and God’s working in the world. They help one another in community and family life. They put their trust in God and believe in the end his goodness and mercy will triumph. They have the support of prayer and faithful friends and have a realistic vision of themselves, of others and the fact that life includes suffering, unexpected trials and death. Unbelievers often typify faith as “magic thinking” or the vain trust in some sort of fantasy figure who solves their problems or an unrealistic hope of same candyland in the sky they will go to one day. This is not real faith. Real faith is solid, concrete, realistic and positive. Real faith also wears working clothes. People of real faith roll up their sleeves, face the problem squarely and do what they can with what they have where they are.
So in the present lockdown I, for one, plan to use the time wisely. In future diaries I’ll be sharing some practical hints from Benedictine spirituality on how our time can become God’s time.
Scripture from the Divine Office for Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent:
If you do not pray the Divine Office–daily prayer, but would like to there are some excellent resources online and for your gadgets. Universalis is a free website with all the prayers of the church available on your computer. iBreviary is an attractive app for your phone or tablet and a quick search through the app store will bring up lots of other Catholic prayer apps and Bible study resources.
- Pray for all Church Leaders as they pray and figure out how to minister to their flocks during a lockdown.
- Pray for the lonely, depressed and frightened
- Pray for a speedy end of the coronavirus worldwide.