My life seems to be busier in lockdown than it was before! Yesterday I was called out to administer last rites to a parishioner in his home. It was not a coronavirus case, but I expect there may be some in the weeks ahead. From there I went to the parish to meet with a small team to plan our pastoral response to the situation. Our St Vincent dePaul members are determined to keep the food pantry open and have put in place excellent protocols for social distance and sanitation. This morning they were in the food pantry wiping down all surfaces and planning the weekly food delivery. We’re also putting in place ways to keep in touch with our elderly and housebound even though we can’t visit to bring them communion we can stay in touch by phone and email and help with shopping if necessary.
We got news on Monday that our oldest son was laid off. He had a great job working for an adventure holiday company. The travel and leisure industry is going to be hit hard by this crisis and he is one of the casualties already. So he is heading home cross country in his old Subaru from Salt Lake City.
I celebrated Mass for the Solemnity of St Joseph today and drafted a letter to the parish explaining our plans for pastoral ministry. I keep thinking of ways we might be able to administer communion for people, but for this weekend we will send them a Liturgy of the Word to use at home. I’m going to video record a short homily and they can watch live streaming Mass from St Mary’s with Fr Newman or Prince of Peace with Fr Smith. We’re so blessed in Greenville to have three parishes where the liturgy is celebrated with due reverence, beauty and proper dignity.
In a few moments I’m off to the Catholic Radio station to record four more chapters of my new book Immortal Combat. The publisher wants the audio book to be released same time as the print and e-book editions.
In the first two lockdown diaries I observed how this lockdown can be viewed through the lens of monastic spirituality. The monks and nuns have been in isolation for the last 1800 years. That’s what they do. I couldn’t sleep last night so ended up watching Batman Begins. It’s pretty hokey, but there are some interesting symbols working in the film that connect. The boy Bruce Wayne falls down a well and is frightened by bats. He grows up and has to face his fear. He ends up being alone and going back down into the cave where he first experienced the dark and Batman begins. In the cave he finds himself and finds his power. Now in the film its all locked in with a rather dumb (in my opinion) mishmash of Eastern mysticism, Ninja warriors and mysterious bad guys. But the universal symbols resonate.
Strange that just yesterday I was writing to you about the desert fathers who went to live in caves. It sounds damp and cold to us, but actually across the Middle East many people lived in caves. They were cheap. They were dry not damp and they were cool in summer and warm in winter. Often they built extensions to the front and side of the caves to enlarge the living space, and in other places where the rock was soft they carved extensive dwellings out of the rock.
Take it all as a symbol of the solitary life of prayer. We dwell in the cell. We dwell in the cave where we find ourselves and listen to God. Don’t forget the tradition goes back beyond the desert fathers to the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It was in the cave that he heard the still small voice.
I will tell you an experience I had once. In the summer of 1987 I was living in England and had three months free between jobs. So I decided to make a hitchhiking pilgrimage to Jerusalem staying in monasteries all along the route. It was a great adventure, and one of the experiences that brought me closer to the Catholic Church. Well, after I got to Jerusalem I decided to travel to St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai. This is the traditional site of Moses encounter with God at the Burning Bush. It is not an easy journey. At the time you got a bus from Jerusalem as far as the Egyptian border at which point you had to get a taxi the rest of the way through the desert to Sinai. I got to the monastery, but there was no place to stay. I didn’t realize there would be no hotel, guest house, hostel or anything. I had heard that people climbed up Mt Sinai to greet the sunrise. So I set off up the mountain. There are steps carved into the mountain side so it is not too difficult to find your way. After nightfall I was about halfway, but didn’t have a flashlight or anything so I decided to spend the night on the mountain. I came upon a small cave and rested there, and wow, was it ever a mystical experience! I hardly slept, but was awake and alert most of the night on the Holy Mountain in a cave thinking about Elijah who at Horeb (another name for Sinai) experienced his epiphany.
So without over dramatizing the whole thing, if you can see your isolation at home as a mini monastic retreat maybe also see your home as your cave, as your cell, as your meeting place with the Divine. With that in mind do you have a little prayer place in your home? In the Russian tradition its called a “poustinia”. I’ll write about that tomorrow.
- National Catholic Register is our best Catholic paper. Connect with the online edition here.
- St Augustine Institute’s “Formed” program has a wealth of resources. Learn more here.
- Universalis prayers for today are here.
Scripture from the Divine Office for today
- For health care workers
- For the elderly and housebound
- For safety and protection for our family and friends.