I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like the past year has been one long Lent. The coronavirus pandemic began shutting down society just a couple weeks after Ash Wednesday last year. Since then, we have experienced prolonged times of imposed fasting and abstinence. It has felt like a long spiritual desert where our religious practices and community gatherings have been disrupted. Like Jesus in the wilderness, as a church and a nation we have experienced a season of temptations which we haven’t always resisted. Our faith in institutions, religious and secular, have been put to the test.
I listened to an interview on the radio about the impact that quarantines and shut-downs may have in the future as people’s habits—like dining out, traveling, or going to movies—have changed and they may not go back to some of those things as restrictions are lifted. The same can be said for churches. Many who may have been attending Mass out of habit or obligation have had the better part of a year to form new habits for Sunday mornings. The challenges ahead are just as daunting in many ways as the ones we’ve faced through 2020.
But there is hope. One of my favorite quotes from St. John Paul II is, “We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song!” The hardships and sacrifices endured during every Lent always give way to the celebration and joy of Easter. The uncertainty and pain of the cross will always surrender to the glory of the empty tomb, if only we persevere. God was not surprised by the coronavirus. He was not caught off guard or sleeping. The world does not shut down without it’s Maker still being fully in control. During my battle with cancer the one spiritual truth I learned was that God is good and because he is good, I can trust him even when I don’t understand my circumstances.
If all we had to rely upon was our own strength, our own creativity, our own ideas, then we would be in a difficult place, but we are not alone. Each of us, as baptized Catholics, have been given the great gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, lead us, and empower us. The very presence of God, the very same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in us (Rom. 8:11). We have seen the Holy Spirit at work in our parish leading our priests and staff to adapt to the “new normal” of the pandemic in creative ways. We’ve offered online options for bible study and RCIA, live-streamed Masses with drive-thru communion, created an online community through a new parish Facebook group, and much more. During this pandemic I’ve participated in online conferences and prayer meetings where I have been blessed to witnessed individuals receive healing through the prayers of others hundreds of miles away through video conferencing. God is not bound by the limits that bind us.
We will continue to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us moving forward as we look with hope to the day of leaving “social distancing” behind us and look at each other face-to-face again. We will need the Spirit’s presence and power to send us a faithful witness out to a world that has been shaken by plague and social distress to call them back to the Father, to receive his mercy and love. The long Lent of COVID will not have the last word. We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song!