Thinking about recent events and the state of the world, the start of the new year seems like an eternity ago, and yet we are only halfway through 2020. One thing can be said for certain: many things have changed since the new year began. From statewide stay at home orders, to the need to wear masks in public, and the closing of businesses and churches, we’ve had to transition to packing all aspects of our lives into the confines of our home. Looking specifically at our faith, we as a church had to think of new ways to handle and fill the absence of the sacraments and parish life. Whether that was by attending virtual Mass, having Zoom sessions with our youth groups, or going to drive by Confession, this season has surely been difficult as we all figured out what our faith life looks like in the midst of a global pandemic.
Thankfully, we have gotten to a point where areas of the country are slowly able to open back up to the public, and that includes our churches, too. Even though this is certainly joyous and happy news, some of us might find it difficult to return to the sacraments. Even I must admit, the introvert in me enjoyed attending Mass in sweats and in the comfort of my own home. Although I am healthy and able, it is tempting to continue to celebrate Mass digitally, with a coffee in hand. However, there are certain aspects of our faith that can only be filled by being physically present to receive the sacraments.
God offers us grace and if we go to Him with the right disposition and seek it, He will freely give in abundance. In the Catechism it says that “…Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate His grace. The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature” (CCC 1084). Through the sacraments, God’s grace is made visible to us — and we can only receive this sacramental grace if we are physically present.
Through Confession, we are able to be absolved of our sins, making our bodies empty vessels to carry the grace and love of God. Then it is through the Mass that heaven and Earth meet at the altar; and with the Holy Eucharist, we receive a little foretaste of eternal life with Christ. We cannot receive absolution or a foretaste of heaven through a computer screen. For a few months now, we have been unable to receive this God-given grace and, as comfortable as virtual Mass may have become, our faith life is incomplete without the sacraments and the grace that we receive from them.
Tied to our Identity
“You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself (Simba). You are more than what you have become.” -Mufasa
I believe this quote from The Lion King may apply to many of us right now. This pandemic could have changed the way we see ourselves and it may have made us briefly forget who we are as Catholic Chirstians. There were many moments throughout this pandemic where I had forgotten what it means to be a child of God. But time and time again, with prayer, reflection, and a deep yearning for the sacraments, I was reminded of my Catholic identity. The sacraments are so deeply imbued into who we are as a Church. They establish us as members of the Church, they give us the grace necessary to carry out our vocations, and they heal us in our greatest times of need. Through regular Mass and Confession, we are able to continuously be reminded that though we might be human with human tendencies, our identity is ultimately rooted in and tied to Christ.
The Joy of Community
In the Bible, there is Adam and Eve, the twelve apostles, the Holy Family, even the animals on the ark had a partner. God made it so that we are not alone in our earthly journey and we are continuously reminded of this fact. He tells us that where two or more are gathered, He is there among them (Matthew 18:20). Because of the pandemic, we were physically separated from our faith communities, and although we may have had many Zoom sessions, text threads, or increased video calls, there is nothing like participating in community in person. I mentioned how I have an introverted side earlier and let me also state: I am a homebody. If I could somehow fashion my room into an eating space, as well as an office, prayer, and workout room, I would. However, through this time away from my parish, I realized how much I took for granted. It was never just about me going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist on my own or just one on one time in Confession — it was always about receiving these sacraments together with my community. Although social distancing rules are in place, the sacraments help us to gather together once more and be physically reminded that we are not alone on this journey towards heaven.
As churches reopen, we will no doubt face many more challenges along the way. There is also no telling when and if we will be able to go back to life before COVID-19. But I believe because of these trying and uncertain times that we must return to regular Mass and Confession more than ever. It is through the sacraments that we will be able to find clarity, comfort, and peace. Do not allow your yearning for the Holy Eucharist or the need for forgiveness and absolution to continue on any longer. Be not afraid, for it is time to return.