A new type of Lent

This is certainly a time like no other — for most of us, that is. We need to keep in perspective that almost anyone reading this editorial is doing so from the comfort of home (although the mortgage or rent payments might be under threat from an economic downturn). However, the reason we are home is to try to protect our own lives and (even more importantly) the lives of other people, even people we do not know. 

St. Paul told us last Sunday in the second reading, “For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8). Most of us are not being asked to die (unlike some of the health professionals around the world who gave their lives while caring for people with the Coronavirus). We are being asked to put up with the inconvenience of staying home. It can be boring, but it is not the most painful march up Calvary one can experience. 

Many Catholics have prepared things on the Internet to help us with our prayers. Father Riley Williams, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, said on YouTube, “These coming weeks are going to be ones of difficulty for all of us. However, we can’t just look at what we’re losing. We also have to reflect on how we can make good use of this time.”

Other than people in certain essential jobs (health care, fire and police departments, the military, pharmacy and grocery workers, etc.), most of us will have a lot more free time than usual. Yes, we will not be “free” to go wherever we want. Jesus told St. Peter, “When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:18). 

St. John then explained that the Risen Christ said this to Peter to signify the death Peter would undergo to “glorify God” (Jn 21:19), but these words were also a reality for so many people in this world before the Coronavirus crisis. Even before this crisis, many patients in nursing homes weren’t “having the time of [their] lives,” as the old song goes. They longed for the days, maybe not too long ago, when they could have enjoyed their retirement, maybe just hanging around home with a good book or the newspaper or a little TV. 

Those folks in the nursing homes had it better than the millions of refugees all over the world, from our southern border to the Syrian/Turkish border to the people of Yemen. How lucky these refugees would have felt to be just “cooped up” at home for a few months!

We also have it better than our servicemen and women, deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and so many other places around the globe, worried about attacks from hidden enemies, while also concerned for their families back home (and about the possibility that the pandemic might pay them a call, too).

We can’t give a list here of everyone, from both now and from the past (e.g., everyone from the World Wars, etc.), who has had it worse than us. The idea of our sacrificing some of our freedom now is so that less people have to suffer like those other people. It truly is an act of mercy.

As Father Williams said, let us think about how we can use this time productively. If we have other people in our household, we can pray together daily. If we live alone, we should not be going out to pray with others (so as to not infect them or us), but we can pray over the phone with people (and also call to cheer them up).

We can look up the daily Mass readings from www.usccb.org/bible/readings and pray them together. On Sundays, although we have been dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass, the Third Commandment (Keep holy the Sabbath) remains in force. We should look to see how we can make extra time for God on Sundays, both in communal prayer (in person with our family members or over the phone or via the internet or television) and in individual prayer, seeking to listen to Our Lord in the depths of our hearts. 

In last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He longed to give her “living water,” which would “become in [whoever receives it] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). This water is our Baptisms, which we only received once, but which made us temples of the Holy Spirit. As such, we can draw upon this reservoir of grace that the God has placed in our souls to see how our prayers, fasting and almsgiving during this special Lent can help us live as new people when we come out of our homes one day, like Lazarus out of the tomb.



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