It is Wednesday of the third week of our lockdown and things are looking pretty grim. The people of New York City are suffering most, but the authorities are planning for the pandemic to hit hard over the next couple of weeks. We have the father of one of our school families hospitalized, and I’m sure things will continue to worsen as we move through April.
Yesterday I was not actually depressed, but feeling disoriented and confused about just how to cope. A fellow priest on social media said he never expected that he would have to completely re-design priestly ministry, but that’s what it feels like. We want to be out there ministering to our people and to have so many restrictions placed on us is very hard. My imagination keeps working overtime as I think how I can provide the sacraments for my flock, but it is irresponsible of me to give invitations for people to leave their homes. I know they would do so, but I’m the one encouraging them to break the “shelter in place” laws. I would go and visit them in their homes to celebrate Mass and hear confessions, but that also is not allowed.
This is where, once again, I turn to the monastic traditions of the church. The monks don’t go out. They don’t minister to people in the world. They stay put, and the most extreme–the Carthusians–the community of hermits don’t even leave their cells except for a few times in the week when they meet with their brothers. By the way, if you would like to watch a beautiful film about the Carthusian life it is called Into Great Silence and I think it may be available from some of the streaming services. It is true that, at least the monks have the Mass, but those masses would be the individual masses celebrated by each priest–which is what we have at this time.
Down through history the monasteries and convents were closed by practically minded people because they said the monks and nuns were useless to society. What the utilitarian dunderheads did not understand was that the enclosed life of prayer is the beating heart of the church and the world. Rather than being useless, the enclosed monks and nuns are the most useful. They are useful to the Body of Christ and the whole world as the heart is useful. Hidden in the center of our bodies, it beats without ceasing bringing the life giving blood.
So perhaps, in God’s divine plan he will use this time of withdraw and isolation to raise up a whole army of solitary prayer warriors for this weary and stressed world. I have certainly taken the time to be more disciplined in my prayers and I would encourage you to do so also. Establish a routine. Say morning and evening prayer using one of the online guides like Universalis and iBreviary. Spend more time in silence and don’t forget the Holy Rosary every day. Picture yourself as a mini monk or nun at this time.
One of the aspects of this pandemic which has made me disoriented is that it hits hardest during Holy Week. At this time we are usually gearing up for all the Holy Week liturgies. The church life is busy. Lent is buzzing and the excitement of Easter is building. Now we’re sitting at home and I’m trying to work out the best way to celebrate Easter with my people while we are all in isolation. It’s frustrating and confusing and I have to admit to a bit of anger towards the diocesan authorities who have clamped down on all activities so drastically. We’re allowed to keep our food pantry open, but not even distribute communion from the reserved sacrament to our people. While this is frustrating for me, once I stop to consider, I realize how this is for the best. If we open things up even a little, we won’t be able to pull back. I just open after this difficult month of April we may be able to relax and hope the worst is over.
Here at our home things are ticking over on a daily routine. I’m reading Tom Holland’s Rubicon on the history of Rome and I’m busy procrastinating on my bigger writing projects. I had planned on using this time to work my next book and my the script for my podcast fiction project. I was also going to produce more podcasts, but the pandemic has sort of thrown me off balance and I’ve found the writing to be stalled. My mind is on other things and the projects I had planned suddenly look different. So I’m doing other activities: We’re lucky to have a big yard, so I’ve got projects to work on outside. We’re trying to eat more healthily and slowly. We’re getting exercise and spending time together. Thank God all four of us are not showing any symptoms, so we are grateful and thinking and praying for many more who are anxious, afraid and worried not only about their health, but also about their income, employment and their future.
The blog is a source of supp0rt for me and my family and I thank those who read the blog and pray for us and know that I hold the blog readers in my prayers as much as I can. If, during this time, you have special prayer requests I’m happy to hear from you at my Facebook fan page, and if you are a Donor Subscriber, to be in touch using the “Ask a Priest” facility.