Our Easter In a Desert
This is a very unusual Easter. We are in a national lockdown. Our freedom of movement has been completely curtailed for the greater good.
We miss walking on the beach or in the park, or taking the dogs for a run around the neighbourhood. We miss our friends and family.
We are spiritually hungry to go to Mass. We are watching the Triduum celebrations on our laptops or cellphones by linking up to online Masses. We are missing the feeling of a community of believers as we share in the celebration of the Last Supper.
We are unable to physically stand below the Cross on Good Friday and we will not hear the ringing of the church bells as the Gloria is sung again at the Easter vigil. We will not be able to welcome the new members who will be received into our parishes as a community.
This absence hurts us deeply.
We entered the desert experience of Lent, and despite the fact that this is Easter weekend, we feel as if we will not emerge into the light of Resurrection Joy.
We’re in it Together
One small consolation is that it is a suffering that we endure together with Catholics and people of faith all over the world.
We are united in our isolation. But we are also united in our desire for the Risen Christ.
Despite all this, we are still very fortunate. If you are reading my column this month, you’re reading it online. You have access to the Internet and can probably attend a virtual Mass.
We remember, however, that this Easter Triduum so many Catholics will not have access to any form of Mass because they are not online. At most they will do their readings at home with their families and recite the prayers of the Mass.
Nothing can substitute receiving the Blessed Sacrament in person, but in exceptional times, we have been able to make a plan to remain spiritually connected with the sacramental Jesus.
However, we do know that in a few months, the coronavirus will be overcome and life will return to normal. Our parish will still be there, waiting for us to return with open doors.
But imagine for one moment that there was no parish. Or no priest. Or no sacraments. Not just for a few weeks or months but permanently.
Imagine for a moment, you lived in a place where you only had a priest to celebrate Mass a few times a year.
Or imagine that you lived in a country where the Church is persecuted and being found attending Mass could cost you your life.
Or if you were forced to belong to a version of the Church that was sanctioned by government authorities.
When we have the privilege and the blessing of Mass each week, we forget the reality of the faithful in the Amazon region, the suffering Christians in the rebel-held regions of Syria and other parts of the Middle East, the hardship of Catholics in China.
Given a Gift
Although it may not seem like it, we have been given a gift this Lent and Easter. We have been allowed to experience what it is like for a large portion of the world’s 1,2 billion Catholics.
This is a Holy Spirit moment. We have felt the acute loss of being separated from the sacraments. We have felt the isolating loss of the community of our faith-sharing groups. In the beginning, we were angry about it. Then we were sad. Now, we’re still grieving.
Knowing how much our spiritual communities mean to us, how can we as Church continue to deny thousands of our brothers and sisters the very spiritual food that gives us strength to face the challenges that life throws us?
In February, just before we entered into this unexpected desert, the Holy Father wrote a response to last year’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, in an apostolic exhortation entitled Querida Amazonia.
During the synod, it had been greatly hoped that some solutions could be found to ensure that the people of the Amazon region (and this can also include Catholics in rural South Africa or the people living in the Congo Basin and many other unreachable corners of the African continent) are able to access the sacraments regularly.
On the issue of access to the sacraments, Pope Francis writes:
“They need the celebration of the Eucharist because it ‘makes the Church’. We can even say that ‘no Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist’.
“If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness.”
He goes on to say that “we cannot remain unconcerned; a specific and courageous response is required of the Church”.
Although one of the suggestions made at the synod was the option of the priestly ordination of viriprobati (married men of proven virtue), the Holy Father’s encyclical held off from approving that proposal, even as he said that “the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies the priest alone to preside at the Eucharist”.
Perhaps now that we have experienced the desert ourselves, we can empathise more closely with the suffering of our isolated brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
What courageous responses can we find to ensure that they are not left out of the spiritual and physical communion that we hope to enjoy again once the pandemic has passed?