IT SEEMS TO ME
A worldwide pandemic has resulted in health and economic situations that, for many, are tenuous at best. Yet the uncertainties and assurances of this Lent and Easter have paralleled life more profoundly than any I can recall.
On Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26), only two COVID-19 deaths were reported in the U.S.; and many of us were just starting to realize things may be more serious than we thought. Still, my calendar for the week of February 23 lists more than 25 items. Pitchers had reported to Spring Training, my beloved Blackhawks played four NHL games, and I was writing a speech that I would deliver the next weekend at an event where hundreds of people gathered. Life was normal; but as my family and I prepared to begin our Lenten journey, we could never have imagined how eerily poignant were the words spoken as a cross was traced on our foreheads, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 22) was the first time in approximately 30 years that I did not physically go to Mass (excepting two Sundays when I was severely ill). More than 400 people in the U.S. had died from COVID-19; McDonald’s closed all its restaurants across the U.K. and Ireland; President Trump signed a federal disaster declaration for Washington State; and it was clear this pathogen was different from any other in recent history. The Gospel reading that Sunday was from John (ch. 9), the story of the man born blind, and one line continues to echo: “Night is coming when no one can work.” That Sunday the foreshadowing of the death of Our Lord paralleled our own fears.
Good Friday (April 10) saw nearly a half-million people infected with COVID-19 in the U.S., and over 18,000 had died. Indiana was a little over two weeks into a stay-at-home order; my wife was sewing masks; and we experienced a darkness that, if not for our faith in Jesus Christ, may have led to despair. Thoughts of the Apostles, hiding in fear for their lives, seemed personal to me. And yet, one single line from the Mass anchored me firm in the hope of Easter.
Easter Sunday found us at “St. Facebook” for Mass. Yes, it still seems surreal. Yet each Sunday while participating in Mass from home, the response to the Ecce Agnus Dei brought tears to my eyes, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” For the first time in my life, this response was uttered literally under my roof as my wife and I implored Jesus to enter into our hearts while separated from Him in the Eucharist. This closeness never left me feeling hollow at the inability to receive the Lord; rather, in the same sense as a Baptism of Desire truly results in the grace of that Sacrament, so too do I believe the Lord honors the true desire to receive Him while physically incapable of doing so. The significance of imploring Jesus to enter under our roof has remained constant for me, and I sense the joy of salvation in that moment of Mass in which I profess from my heart my desire to be united with Christ.
On Palm Sunday, the Passion was from the Gospel of Matthew. It is in this account where, once Jesus has breathed His last, the Temple veil tears from top to bottom, signifying that we are no longer separated from God who resides only in the Temple; rather, in Jesus Christ our hearts now become a temple where God dwells. We all long for the coming day when we can once again receive our Lord, truly present in the Eucharist. But we must never forget that, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Nothing … especially not a virus. What a graced Lent and Easter, full of suffering yet imbued with the hope of the Lord’s conquering of death. Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but I am grateful beyond words that you continue to do so.