At the end of last week- the 2nd week of Lent- it was announced that schools in my area would be shut down for 2 weeks due to the Coronavirus. Many schools and towns around the country have been shut down indefinitely or even for the rest of the school year to contain this virus. Many of us have never seen such a thing. We all have lots of questions. We try to find the answers through politics or studies or social media, but we are coming up short. Could this be the most Lent-like thing that could happen?
Now I am in no way equating our struggles as a society right now with war or slavery or the Great Depression or the Plague- true desert like moments and hardships from the past. But for many of us, this kind of isolation and discipline is unknown. And the degrees of hardship vary for many. Some of us can sit inside our houses right now and work from home. Some don't have that luxury because they don't have warm homes. Some can't work because restaurants or theaters or their industry has been put on hold.
There are lots of negative things to this pandemic. I know, personally, I am very sad right now about the canceling of Masses around the world. I understand that to contain this virus, we need to stop congregating. But when one of the main purposes and definitions of Church IS to congregate...what do we do? We are taught that Grace comes from Christ in the community and from the Sacraments. What do we do when those things are denied us?
Welcome to Lent 2020. I have been texting priest friends and asking them if there is any way that I can get to a confession or Mass, but not all people have that luxury. It may be that instead of celebrating being halfway through Lent this Laetare Sunday with the liturgical rose all around us, we sit at home and think and pray by ourselves.
For families, this can be a unique opportunity to re-examine prayer together. As someone who sits alone and prays individually quite often, not having that community aspect is going to be hard for me.
But this is what Lent is- a desert experience. When Jesus was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, he was alone. He was tempted to think negatively about his mission. But he overcame and defeated the devil. This is a time to unite ourselves with Christ in our suffering and discipline, which is what Lent should be.
When the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years (number 40 = time of trial in Scripture), they were together, but there was an unknown. They had to trust that God was going to lead them out of that desert. They struggled, they fought, they discussed things that weren't true. In many ways, the conversations on the internet and social media seem like the Israelites trying to make their way through the unknown desert.
But what is the one constant in all of these scenarios? Faith in God. Ultimately, faith and trust in God is what let Jesus conquer the devil. Faith and trust in God led the Israelites (eventually!) to the Promised Land. And now, our faith and trust in God is going to get us through this as well. Not the conjecture, not the arguments- but the trust in God and the discipline and the sacrifice of Lent.
Easier said than done. Unknowns are always hard, especially in this world today where we can "know" something within seconds on our phones. But we are entering into an unknown, just like Christ, just like the Israelites, and trust in God is the answer.
I hope you all are well and hang in there. Easter and Resurrection may look different this year, but it is still coming.