The Coronavirus pandemic is playing out more like an apocalypse than a virus pandemic. What should Catholics actually be doing during this trial?
The Coronavirus pandemic is playing out more like an apocalypse than a virus pandemic. It's the Coronapocolypse! Many people are treating it like the end of the world. Perhaps in many ways it is the end of "the world" (more on that later) but not in the way that most people think. What should we, as faithful Catholics be doing during this time?
Many dioceses have canceled public masses, retreats, religious education programs or have otherwise caused the faithful in their territories to scatter and keep from being exposed to one another. So what is a faithful Catholic to do when the nature of our lived-faith involves coming together in prayerful community but the tribulation of our times is preventing us from doing that?
I believe this pandemic is a gift and a test from God. But it only has value insofar as we take advantage of it, and suffer through this reasonably mild tribulation with courage, and prayerfulness.
I say it's a reasonably mild tribulation because the faithful throughout time, and throughout the globe in our own time, have suffered through much worse than this. As much as people are feeling the pinch of social separation and isolation, it isn't as bad as having to ride out the Black Plague, or hiding from persecutors who want to kill us. Suffering through this should be relatively easy, even if a bit challenging. Here's how I suggest we suffer well:
Daily Mass Readings
In addition to being prayerful, take some time to read the scriptures. Reading the scriptures (Lectio Divina, or "divine reading" in Latin) is something most Catholics rarely have time for—or rarely make time for. Now is a good opportunity to do it, since our lives are necessarily being made more simple and quiet during this pandemic. If you don't know where to start in the Bible, begin with the daily mass readings. Refer to the guide for the mass readings for each day at the USCCB's website here. Read the day's mass readings on their website, or use it as a guide to find the readings (which books, chapters and verses are being used) for that day, and then do the actual reading of the text from a bible of your choice. That's what I do, because I prefer my bible to the translation on the USCCB's site, which isn't bad, but I like mine better. Yes, your spiritual life can be that personalized!
Lectio Divina, whether it's the daily readings, or any other personal reading of scripture, involves five steps, but you needn't go through every step in order to make it fruitful. The five steps of Lectio Divina are
- Read a passage slowly and carefully within the bible.
- Prayer. Having a loving conversation with God about what you read. Keep it casual but reverent!
- Meditation. Thinking deeply or swelling upon a spiritual reality within a text.
- Contemplation. Resting in Gods presence.
- Action. Go and do likewise.
The most important steps, especially for beginners, are steps 1, 2, and 5, but the other steps are very beneficial and I suggest you practice those steps a little every day, at least 15 minutes a day.
Make an Act Spiritual Communion Daily
When you can't receive communion sacramentally, many saints have suggested making acts of spiritual communion instead. An act of Spiritual Communion provides many powerful graces, though not as much as sacramental communion. It's ideal for those who wish to receive communion, but are unable to because they are not in a state of grace, or because they're not able to go to mass.
One of the great things about an act of spiritual communion is that, unlike sacramental communion, you can do it as frequently as you want, whereas you can only receive sacramental communion once a day. So there are a lot of graces on the table waiting for you to just pick them up.
There are a couple of acts (prayers) of spiritual communion but the most popular one was composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori. Say this prayer with reverence and pause in silent reflection for a few moments after you say it:
"My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things and I desire you with all my heart. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already in my heart and unite myself to you completely. Please do not let me ever by separated from you."
Now if you're one of those particularly inquisitive Catholics and want to dig deeper and learn more about the history and theology behind spiritual communion, the Diocese of Little Rock has a great writeup here.
Don't just recite words. It's lifeless and boring and will get you nowhere in the spiritual life. Pray well! Pray as though God Himself were in the room with you...because He is. Don't just recite the words, say the words, as if they're coming from your heart, not just your memory.
Pray a little more than usual. It's lent, and we should be doing that anyway. But in addition to being the traditional season of repentance this is also a time of tribulation and trial in the world, and that's historically when Catholics hunker down and get more prayerful.
Most importantly in my opinion, pray that God has mercy on us during these times, pray that he protects you and your family, and everybody else from contracting the Coronavirus, and pray that he rescues us from this pandemic. Pray also that humanity can benefit from whatever God's purpose is in allowing this Coronavirus pandemic. He has a purpose. He's allowing it for a reason. Pray that humanity—not just Catholics—benefits from this trial as He intends for us to benefit from it. God's will be done, all ways! Unite this intention to the recitation of the holy Rosary particularly. If you're not saying a Rosary? This is a good time to get into the habit of saying the Rosary.
Live the [Whole] Gospel
Live the whole Gospel in faith, love, charity and hope. Live a life of charity, gentleness, patience goodness and love. Love your family a little more. Love them with your actions not with your sentiments (that's what love is from God's perspective). Love God a little more. Love your neighbor a little more. Again, with your actions, not with your good intentions. Be more patient. Be more generous. Be more compassionate. Be more charitable.
Be calm, and confident and have faith in God's good care. Peace, and the call to be at peace isn't some spiritual tranquilizer meant to keep you from panic. Peace is at the heart of the Gospel. The first words Our Lord said to his apostles after His resurrection was "Peace be with you". At the Last Supper He wished them, and all of us throughout time, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." (John 14:27). God wants us to be at peace, because the life of God himself is in peace. We should maintain our peace even in times of trial and discord, like now. Don't let coronavirus rob you of your peace. I wrote a little something about that the other day if you'd like to have a look.
In many ways the coronapocolypse may be the end of something. Not the end of the world, but the end of a world; a world of excessive comfort and and sense of disordered ease that makes us love the world, or its natural goods and pleasures more than we love God. Many people who are treating this as a sort of apocalypse are not running to churches or falling to their knees in prayer. They're stocking up on beer, soda (I saw this just today!), toilet paper and binge-watching on Netflix. They run to their pleasures, not to God; the God who made us, the God who saves us, and the God who will rescue us from this darkness. If it's the end of the world, people are sure going about it the wrong way. Please don't do likewise. Stay close to God and to His Holy Mother. We'll not only be okay, we'll gradually be elevated to something a little better than how we were before the coronavirus broke out of its Chinese prison. Have faith, have hope, and be at peace.
Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!