Priest: Lockdown is Our Retreat
Fr Mathibela Sebothoma – With a beaming smile on his face, Mr Khumalo remarked: “Father, I have never seen something like this in a long time.”
The curious thing I thought he was referring to was the baptism of fire he experienced as the chair of the Sacred Heart cathedral parish pastoral council.
Together with the top six of the council, they were ministering in all the five Sunday Masses introduced as a response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s directives of limiting Mass to no more than 100 people.
They had to make sure that the Disaster Management Act gazetted by government was adhered to: spraying hands with sanitisers and keeping individuals one metre apart in a usually crowded place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. I congratulated their noble sacrifice and said this was what pastoral care ministry is all about: “to serve and not to be served”.
But, as it turned out, that was not the reason for Mr Khumalo’s infectious smile. “For the first time, after a long time, our family was under one roof on a Sunday. We shared meals, prayers and conversations.”
This dreaded virus, which has disrupted life as we know, now even to the point of locking us up in our homes, has had a positive side-effect on his family. In the words of Winston Churchill, we must never let a serious crisis go to waste.
Some South Africans failed to adhere to President Ramaphosa’s call for self-quarantine and social distance, for the good of society. More and more people were spreading the virus to infect more people unknowingly.
Consequently the government blessed us in South Africa with a 21day lockdown.
My local ordinary, Archbishop Dabula Mpako of Pretoria, like other bishops in their dioceses, subsequently issued a directive to suspend all public Masses, including the ceremonies of Holy Week, the Chrism Mass and Easter Triduum until the national lockdown is lifted by the authorities.
At a deeper spiritual level, this is the real Lenten season we never wished for, thanks to Covid-19.
All of us are challenged to self-isolate. Jesus instructed us on Ash Wednesday: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
During the Ash Wednesday service we heard God clearly say that we must remember: “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
This verse will be repeated when our mortal remains are put in the ground. Dust should remind us that we are vulnerable and fragile as we have witnessed thousands of people succumbing to this emergency. If we do not self-isolate or keep a safe social distance, we will become dust sooner than later.
Fr Joel Skhosana, in one of his audio messages, warned us against blaming Satan for the coronavirus. He says sometimes we give the devil the dues which he does not deserve. This virus, like TB and HIV, is transferred from person to person.
God does not wish for us to die but have life abundantly here on earth and in heaven. Let us try to keep to our Lenten resolutions we made on Ash Wednesday.
Let us allow the Spirit of God to quarantine us as Jesus was led to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights (and let us pray that our lookdown will not extend to 40 days!). It is never too late to restart our personal Lenten discipline. In the absence of official liturgies, we can turn our homes into domestic churches.
Our parents can assume their priestly duties by leading family prayers and gathering us around the table to share meals, as Jesus did with his disciples. On Fridays we can take turns praying the Stations of the Cross (the recent Southern Cross poster can help you there). On Palm Sunday we can make our palms and rejoice “Hosanna”.
At Easter we can light our own candles and renew our baptismal vows. At noon we can ring our self-made bells to pray the Angelus or the Regina Coeli.
We have ample time to read the Bible and do catechism at home. Oh, let us pray for those working during this time while we are on retreat. After all the Church did not start with buildings and formal liturgies.
The Church started in the upper room. Priests will continue to celebrate daily Masses — you can still send them your Mass intentions via WhatsApp. The national lockdown does not mean an end to our spiritual life.
We are still members of the Body of Christ. He is always with us, two or three gather in his name.
Let us not waste the crisis we are facing. Soon we will echo Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”