By Erin Simmons
I never thought this day would come. The day I sat and watched my beloved church and the Mass from a screen in my sitting room. The sitting room we have now converted into a chapel somehow falls short in all the ways that matter during these times of uncertainty. I watch the Eucharist being held out and the priest say his words. I feel it again …the forming of tears and the lump in my throat. I try to hide it from my family of small children, but I can’t hide the tears and they go streaming down my face. Every week I think it will get easier. That somehow, I will understand this temporary situation is alright and I don’t need the tears anymore. Still, it never happens. I miss my Lord so much. I miss his presence in front of me.
I have always felt such comfort knowing he was there, down the road in a safe and beautiful place. In my darkest times, I would go over and sit in front of him listening in silence and asking for him to help me. I knew he was there, and I knew he saw me. I could feel him beside me and with me. I knew it would be okay. I would walk out of Mass so full of peace and the Holy Spirit. In times of joy and gratitude and I would go before him and to say thank you and to offer my life again and again into his hands. And now there is loss that I feel. I still know he is with me and inside me and beside me. I still know this but now, I cannot be in front of him. I can no longer receive the Eucharist. I can no longer be in the presence of my community. The loss is so great.
As the news of the virus started making its way into headlines, I watched as the world scrambled around. I reminded myself that throughout history there are times like this. Times of viruses and plagues. Times of war and change. Life is not the garden of Eden and we are not called to live in a bubble. As Christians we are called to be different than that. We all know it, but it’s hard to do. It feels so much safer being locked in a bubble. Maybe that is why it’s even a bigger a loss to me. To see that all I have known might not go back to the way it was, and perhaps that is even what God is wanting. I watched as the virus crept closer and closer to KC. And at every Mass I would look around and try to freeze the images of people in my head. I would kneel and know that these times were limited. I would go before my God to receive the Eucharist knowing this could be my last time.
And then, it happened. The doors were shut. The tape was put up around playgrounds and city parks we used to frequent as a family. The doors to my beloved church were closed and all that remained was the outside of the building I love so much to look at, knowing he is inside. I want to run to the altar and have his arms wrap around me. I want to tell him I’m sorry for the years I didn’t know how lucky I was to have this.
I grew up on stories about pilgrimages, the value of the Mass and what people had to go through to attend. This is the only way I know how to get through this- to remember the stories I was raised on. How Christians have had this and so much worse to live through. I see on television and on news reels about the Christians in other countries and what they must do to receive the Eucharist. I have friends who grew up in communist countries whose parents and themselves were not allowed to practice their Catholic faith except in secret. But I never lived these things.
What this pandemic has taught me most is that to live through things makes us grow. It stretches us to become what God wants us to be. I am tempted to scream, WHERE IS OUR GOD?? The crucifix provides its own, wordless response: He is right here suffering with us. God is busy making me grow. He is pulling me past my comfort zones and expectations. He is also moving me to look at myself and I how I deal with fear, tragedy and hope. He is watching to see if I turn to him daily or if I decide to ignore him. These times show us exactly what we are made of spiritually. It is definitely harder to do without the community of love. It is harder to do now that my bubble no longer exists. It is harder to do when I am asked to live my faith differently and better than I did before.
I think about if I get sick. If God calls me home or if I am put in a hospital to suffer a horrible illness. I ask that I hear God the entire time. It is in surrender that we grow stronger free of the chains that hold us down in ordinary life. Surrendering doesn’t come easy as a mother. We have so much to live for, so much to plan for and so much to do!
When this pandemic started, I felt the same as most of you probably did. I didn’t minimize the severity, I looked it face on. I ran to the store before the first wave and stocked up on all essential medications and food. I ran to the dry cleaners and picked up clothes. I prayed a lot that my children and I would be spared. I made videos for my children in case I got sick and didn’t make it. All this preparing didn’t stop at just that. But what I was not prepared for was the loss. The heavy loss of participating in my faith in the most important way, the Eucharist and the Holy Mass. It is what I hold so dear. It is the blood that runs through my veins pumping my heart. It is the place and the time I feel the safest and closest to my Lord. It is where I want my children to be daily and it is difficult to be without it right now.
So, with all of this I must end with compliance to Gods will. That his will, not mine, be done.
I feel so very blessed that our saints are with us in these times. I am especially grateful for the prayer to receive ‘spiritual communion’ written by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori in the 18th century. St. Thomas Aquinas once defined a Spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament [in Communion at Mass] and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him.” This is where I am at now, together with my husband and children. We lift our prayer to heaven, joining with all the angels and saints as we watch our screen and participate in the beautiful Mass as best we can. As St. Francis de Sales said “Have no fear for what tomorrow may bring…Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” Lord Jesus, we anxiously wait to receive you again in person. And we know that you are with us in this dark time…You are right here with us.
There are many beautiful ways that we can participate in our faith right now, but ultimately, nothing can replace what we are missing in the Eucharist. How are you practicing Spiritual Communion with Christ? How are you practicing surrender?