I’ve been away from blogging and I missed a week of my lockdown diary. Why is that? I’m not sure because there have been a bundle of reasons why I have been away. Firstly, I underestimated the impact the lockdown would have on my spiritual life and regular routine. It has knocked me for a loop. Not in any terrible way–just that normal life has been radically altered. The rug has been pulled out from under me. We’ve had to suddenly re-think our lives, re-imagine parish ministry, re-order the way we live and all of this during Lent and Holy Week when we were normally so busy, but now we were so busy in different ways. A sudden rush of work you didn’t expect and demands you did not know how to cope with. Hour spent trying to figure out how to record and upload and broadcast a video homily, then hours when you would have been in the parish working with people and meeting with people but now you’re at home.
So I’m sorry if I have been away from the blogging for some time. One of the disappointing things about this lockdown is that I was kind of looking forward to having time to do a lot of writing and getting my teeth into a couple of pet projects. That has not happened. Instead I have spent the free time working in the garden, reading and praying more. I guess that’s not a bad thing, but the writing did not get done. I am a rather intuitive person, so I go with what feels right in my personal life much of the time. Maybe the gardening, reading and praying is what I needed right now.
But now Holy Week is over. I think after the initial rush of the lockdown we can start to look forward to a new kind of normal life. I’m not sure what that looks like and what church looks like, but I feel sure we can come up with ways to minister that adjust to proper social distancing while still administering the sacraments and the life of Christ to our people.
Probably the most disturbing thing about the virus crisis is simply the uncertainty. We just don’t know how serious it is or how long it will be with us. It is so easy (and I’ve fallen into this trap) to spend too much time reading news article and Twitter and Facebook comments, and each of them seem to contradict the next one. We have people with no symptoms who test positive and people with symptoms who test negative. We have people who tested positive, had symptoms and got better who then test positive again, but this time with no symptoms. So maybe all the tests themselves are faulty. Who knows? Some say many more people have had the virus but haven’t shown symptoms or have only had mild symptoms therefore the fatality rate is very low. The next news report or opinionated person says, “No. In actual fact the whole thing is only just starting to get rolling. Many, many more people are going to get sick and die.” Then we hear of a young adult who is in ICU with the illness. The next news report is of some ninety year old who survived the Spanish flu and fought in two world wars who is going home after defeating COVID-19.
This uncertainty is the worst thing for most people, and here’s where I think many followers of the Lord are going to get into spiritual trouble. I sense among some believers a real crisis of faith. It is difficult for me to write this, because the crisis of faith is NOT among those who we considered to have a shallow or nominal faith. I don’t have much to say about them. What I predict, however, is a falling away of some Catholics who appeared to be the most pious, holy and committed Catholics. These are the personality types who really value certainty in their faith, certainty in their moral codes, certainty in their devotional life, certainty in their doctrines, certainty in the rules and regulations through which they follow the Lord.
These uncertain times are a real trial for them. Many of them have already been experiencing stress because of the moral corruption amongst the hierarchy and because of their ambiguous (or downright hateful) feelings toward Pope Francis. Uncertainty is very difficult for people (of all persuasions) who, because of their personality types or personal circumstances) really need rock solid certainty in all things.
If I am right in my hunch, then what we desperately need is more heartfelt prayer and reliance on the very core of our faith–which is our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the solid Rock on which the Faith is founded. It is on the Rock of Jesus Christ that Peter becomes the Rock on which Christ builds his church. The problem with too many Christians of all opinions, denominations and types is that we tend to build on something other than the Rock of Jesus Christ.
We construct a religion that is anything BUT that. It may be the peace and justice work in which we invest so much time and generous gifts of money. It may be our devotion to a particular saint or spirituality. It may be our commitment to proper liturgy, best music or expert catechesis. It might be the work we do in prison or for the poor. It could be any of the good things associated with our religion but which are meant to be the result of our faith–not our primary focus.
While these things are good, they are not the faith. Neither are they the source of strength that will see us through the hard times. Only our friendship with Jesus and Mary will see us through.
I have to admit that in the last week or two I have faced this same challenge. Was my faith all about my being a priest and all the good stuff that goes with that? Suddenly my ministry, if not removed, was certainly transformed. Where was I in the middle of that? Where was my faith? If I had invested it all in my being a priest, and working as a priest was taken away, then where was my faith? Likewise with any good thing in church or life which is not the Lord Jesus Christ–if it is taken away what will you be left with. If you thought that good thing WAS the faith you were mistaken.
Therefore the simple lesson I am learning in the lockdown, and one I will share, is that we need to stay close to Jesus and Mary.
He is the one who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Nobody else and nothing else can fill that gap or keep that promise.