By Sarah Streitwieser
Out of Stock
It has been exactly 3 weeks and 3 days since the last time I received Holy Communion. It was a Tuesday, and my children were out of school for spring break. News of the pandemic was settling upon us like a heavy fog. The alternate reality of our new normal was just creeping in.
I didn’t understand; I wasn’t ready.
Somehow I missed all of the rushing and stocking. Our home was down to 4 rolls of toilet paper and our entire city was out of stock. Was this really happening? Was school really going to be closed for the remainder of the academic year? Would my husband and I retain our jobs? More pressingly, where can we get toilet paper?
As I already stated, it was Tuesday — March 17th, the Feast of St. Patrick. My children stumbled down the stairs for breakfast in mismatched shades of green, giggling about pinches for all non-green wearers. News of the growing pandemic saturated my phone’s newsfeed while I flipped green pancakes on the griddle. I tried not to look.
Clearly we had procrastinated for long enough; it was time to prepare. “Today is going to be a workday, not a playday,” I announce to my kids. The expected groans ensue. “What do you mean? It’s spring break!”
“Yes,” I say, “but we have to accomplish a few things today. We can have fun together while we work. I’ll even pick up a treat,” I add, trying to soften the blow.
We set to our business of errand completion and grocery acquisition. Our favorite store limits us to 2 gallons of milk; we typically drink 5 in a week. Why is this store out of flour and rice … and toilet paper? It must be a fluke; we’ll try another.
Sparring with the Holy Spirit
Just before noon we circle home to unload our short-stocked cache of groceries and eat lunch. Then, out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, the Holy Spirt sucker-punches me in face.
“GO TO MASS.”
Unexpected, right? Mass is not a line item on the carefully crafted itinerary of my workday. I still have a litany of tasks to accomplish, and – in case you missed this detail — we are getting dangerously close to running out of toilet paper.
“GO TO MASS.”
“Put your shoes back on,” I say to the kids.
“Are we going out for lunch?”
“No. We are going to Mass.”
“But we haven’t had lunch yet!”
We barrel down the road in our oversized van, pull into a full Ascension parking lot, and inch into church just before the procession. I must be going crazy. My kids are hungry, my pantry is barely stocked, and – need I say it again? – we are almost out of toilet paper.
The Knockout Punch
We slide into a far pew, mindful of the then-new social distancing recommendations. All four girls try to sit in my lap at once while my almost-teen son shoots us an almost-teen look of subtle disapproval. Msgr. McGlinn is the celebrant; my daughters particularly love him. “I hope he does one of his prayers at the end,” one lap-strewn girl whispers in my ear.
Mass proceeds as any other Mass, but – for some reason — my heart and mind are acutely present. There is a palatable fullness – maybe a heaviness? – within me. I feel, and hear, and taste all that is Jesus; He is present. Of course, Jesus is always present in the Blessed Sacrament, but today is different. I am present too. I ascend to the joy of the Eucharistic feast, and yet the tone – of life, of Mass, of Him, even of me – is somber. The air in the church feels thick and heavy, pregnant with news that I’ve not yet heard.
Mass concludes. Masses conclude. And then it happens.
“I have one announcement,” Msgr. McGlinn states. “For the foreseeable future, Mass will be closed from public attendance. May God bless you all.”
My legs crumple beneath me and I sink down to my knees; tears well and fall. “Mom, what’s happening,” a chorus of concerned voices asks. It’s not an answerable question. “I don’t know,” I say. “Pray.”
One day counts-up to one week, which counts-up to three weeks and three days of shelter-in-place solitude; three weeks and three days of forced Eucharistic fast. The weeks – maybe months? — will continue counting-up for the foreseeable future. Yes, this too shall pass, but no one knows exactly when.
Like a smoggy pollutant, the pandemic lingers over every aspect of life, dampening the simplest exchanges. The children that live next door can no longer play with my children; their basketball rolls down the street and I don’t help them retrieve it. I’m not supposed to touch something that they will re-touch, right? I wonder if I am following the new social expectations correctly.The doorbell rings with a grocery delivery. From behind my closed door I text, “Thank you! Please just leave everything on the front porch.” This can’t be right, can it?
Everything feels flat.
In the sleepy monotony of post-pandemic life, the Holy Spirit returns with another nudge. I wake up and realize that I’ve been sleeping. I think back to pre-pandemic life and take account of myself. How many times did I let busyness numb my heart? How often did my to-do list crowded out daily Mass? When was the last time I woke in the middle of the night to go to Eucharistic Adoration?
I think back to the intimacy I experienced during Mass on that fateful Tuesday. Has Jesus been calling me to this level of sacramental friendship – perhaps for years now – and I haven’t been fully available to Him?
Like a mouth full of coffee grounds from the bottom of my cup, the bitter taste of my failure jolts me upright. I resist the urge to simply spit it out. I’ve been sleeping for a while – well before the pandemic – and I didn’t even realize it. Now that my Lord has been taken – in a sense – from me, I remember all the ways that I have been absent from Him. I think of all the times that I’ve chosen the sleepy allure of activity over the quiet intimacy of His friendship.
It is the early morning of Good Friday, and He has already been taken. I am alone with the knowledge that I slept through much of my final opportunity to be with Him. The weight of this realization is choking.
It is my nature to avoid suffering; perhaps that quality is not unique to me. It is tempting to simply wade through Good Friday, skimming over my Lord’s Passion without immersing myself in His agony. I want to gaze at His suffering only through the pastel-colored retrospect-o-scope of Easter. But by doing so, I miss the bitter drink. This year, I refuse to skim; I submerse myself and swallow.
Liturgically speaking, we know that Easter will come on Sunday. But our true Easter – the Easter of receiving our Risen Lord in the Eucharist – no one knows for certain when that will come. Like Jesus’s disciples, we aren’t privy to our own resurrection story.
So, we wait. Fully awake, beneath the cross with Mary, we wait. We share the bitter cup of death-to-self with our Lord. We make ourselves fully present to Him, even as His presence (temporarily) ebbs away from us. And with patient faith, we wait.
Find resources for observing Good Friday at home here: