This was supposed to be the year of perfect, 20/20, vision in which we gain incredible spiritual insight into God working in our lives. Instead, we get COVID-19, the coronavirus. Ironically, it is forcing many of us to treat Lent in the way that spiritualists have urged us to do for years.
Among their urgings is for us to go into the desert these forty days, i.e., to isolate ourselves as Jesus did to a point that we face some of our demons, including fears surrounding our eventual earthly demise. They have challenged us to refrain from Holy Eucharist, to fast from heavenly food during this time period so that we acquire a greater appreciation for the sublime gift of Christ’s body and blood. They have confronted our lackadaisical attitude toward routine prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, desiring that we be more serious in our Lenten efforts. They have longed for us to grasp a better connection between these three pillars of the season and our three most important relationships: with God, with ourselves, and with others. They have hoped that through more authentic self-reflection, we would fast from things that we don’t need in order to make room for things that we do need, especially a stronger connection with Christ. They have encouraged us to recognize in the giving of alms and charity that we are actually giving encouragement and support, even seeing ourselves in those who’re feeble, outcast, lonely, marginalized, and most forgotten in society. Mostly, I think, they have wanted us, through prayer, especially listening to God, to focus on interior growth in holiness rather than seeking external signs.
Like most of us, l am disappointed that our annual Saint Patrick’s Day celebration was done without parades or parties, that the wearin’ of the green took place with silent streets and empty pubs. I am disappointed that March Madness was taken away: the hype of NCAA conference tournaments, the excitement of Selection Sunday, the Big Dance’s bracketology and friendly wagers, the Final Four and crowning of a new champion—all squelched, as the road to glory got replaced by paths to quarantines. Beautiful Saint Joseph Tables were not to be seen this year and delicious Italian cookies not to be tasted. Spring Breaks, though lasting longer than ever, did not offer that magical moment of sunshine as pause from scholarly reports and high-pressure tests; rather, students return to homework under seeming house arrest. Of course, we all realize that our current acts of caution to prevent further spread of illness is far greater than later regret of a more serious pandemic.
An Irish Capuchin friar, Brother Richard Hendrick, wrote a Saint Patrick’s Day poem, this week, entitled “Lockdown.” It is worth reading and reflecting upon. He notes that while citizens of earth are currently stuck in fear, isolation, panic, sickness, even death, a world that is usually cluttered with noises has silenced so that we can hear birds sing again as people slow down and contemplate our existence. He reminds us that love is stronger than our fear and that isolation doesn’t need to bring loneliness, just as panic doesn’t need to give way to rude or unkind behaviors. He directs us in our yearning for spring to help overcome physical disease and spiritual dis-ease by opening the windows of our soul to reach beyond empty public spaces.
We are experiencing a different kind of madness this March. Though not found in jam-packed auditoriums or crowded streets, it is felt in empty churches and quiet evenings. Maybe the emptiness of this Corona-Lent can be a path for us to gain a more perfect vision, after all. As we continue along the annual journey from cold to warmth, darkness to light, sickness to health, winter to spring, and ashes to Easter, it is essentially our journey from death to life—this time ‘round like no other. Maybe, as never before, we are living Lent with insight to rebirth.