Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This week, the state of Connecticut returned to Phase 2 coronavirus protocols. For houses of worship, we will simply have a reduced indoor capacity – we are asked not to exceed 100 persons attending a given Mass. Obviously, we continue to observe social distancing, we continue to wear masks as a precaution, we encourage frequent hand sanitizing, we clean the church regularly, and we encourage those who most at-risk or who are feeling ill to remain home. Our live stream is up and running for every single Mass on both YouTube and Facebook, so that parishioners who cannot join in person can still be connected to their parish family and spiritual home. A change like this was not entirely unexpected. Nevertheless, I confess to feelings of disappointment and even defeat.
Disappointment and defeat because we did all the things we were supposed to do. We wore our masks, washed our hands, sat farther apart, eliminated congregational singing, and limited attendance. While there have been cases where someone who attended Mass at a parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport later tested positive for COVID-19, there have been no cases of infection traced back to attending Mass. We did everything correctly. How do we end up taking steps backward?
Now if I stayed in a disappointed, defeated mentality, I would make the mistake of thinking of the Phase 2 protocols as a punishment. That idea, of course, is silly. This is a serious precaution taken to protect as many people as possible, to stay ahead of the virus’ spread. We still have public Mass, we can still have people in attendance. I’m not happy that we have to pull back on numbers, but I understand. If I step away from disappointment and look at the return to Phase 2 as a metaphor for the spiritual life, I will learn something else. That is, in the spiritual life, we can do everything possible, exert every effort, check all the boxes, and still see little progress. We can feel like we have prayed and prayed for something, and are getting no response. If we allow that defeated, disappointed mindset to creep in, we view the apparent lack of progress as a punishment, or worse, as though we are being ignored. But just as the Phase 2 rollback is intended to protect and help, so too our apparent lack of spiritual growth can actually be an invitation to patience and healing.
We’re moving back to Phase 2 because those precautions helped. We might not always enjoy them, and they are certainly not perfect, but they have helped. Look at your own spiritual life. Are there practices you once had that worked well for you? I can point to times when my prayer life was especially strong, and I know that those practices worked well for me. If I find myself in a time of spiritual stagnation, returning to those practices can help me get on track. Knowing that some way of praying helped me in the past does not mean that it was perfect. Going back to that way of praying, aware of its imperfections, is an opportunity to approach it in a more perfect way, to refine its rough edges and adapt it to my present circumstances. Going back to something I know works in the spiritual life also helps me persevere.
Perseverance is the key. Great saints have endured long periods of the spiritual desert. St. John of the Cross famously called his struggles the “dark night of the soul.” St. Teresa of Calcutta likewise endured years in which she felt almost nothing in prayer. Yet they persevered in prayer, persevered in living virtuous lives, persevered in seeking God’s plan every day. The way we will best weather the storm of COVID restrictions is by our perseverance. This does not mean we accept blindly every directive, nor does it mean surrender of liberty, nor does it mean we enjoy the restrictions. It means rather that we carry the cross of restricted attendance with courage. It means wearing the mask even though we don’t like them, understanding that it can protect us from illness and it makes those around us feel safe. It means doing what we know works, even though we might want things to be different. So persevere! With God’s help we will get through this. More importantly, persevere in prayer!