Locked Down and Yet Together
In January column I said that I had made no plans for 2020. It feels a little ironic now!
Although I had not made any specific plans, I certainly had no idea that the better part of this year may very well be spent within my house. Or that my window on the world would be my computer.
There have been many frustrations, obviously. I’ve missed walks on the beach. I’ve missed meeting up with friends at coffee shops. I’ve missed Mass: receiving the Eucharist and seeing fellow parishioners. I’ve missed group meetings with my Schoenstatt women’s group.
Accompanying my RCIA class online in what should have been their last few weeks of preparation before being received into the Church was especially hard.
But despite all this, the last few weeks have been an incredibly spiritual time of reconnecting with old friends via the medium of online Mass and online prayer times.
When I moved to Cape Town a few years ago, I left behind wonderful friends in Gauteng, and people who are in many ways closer to me than family. We stayed in touch via WhatsApp and Facebook, and the occasional Skype call. However, scheduling conflicts made those moments of connection and sharing few and far between.
The lockdown has allowed me to stop. To reconnect. On a human level, there were catch-ups with friends who, like me, found themselves at home.
One memorable moment was a Skype call with friends in three different countries, where we each opened up a bottle of wine and spent three hours just catching up. We were quite merry after that!
Spiritually, it has been an incredible time as well. With so many online Masses available, I was not restricted to attending Mass only at my parish.
I do continue to attend Sunday Mass with my fellow parishioners as a way of uniting with them. But I’ve also had the opportunity to attend Mass at other parishes which is an important part of my spiritual journey.
Something I am rarely able to do is attend weekday Mass. But I discovered that Fr Chris Townsend, my former parish priest in Pretoria, celebrates daily Mass every evening. It was special to join in attending Mass with him again for the first time in seven years.
The Gift of Daily Mass and Prayer
Then I discovered another gift in that daily Mass. The prayer group which I belonged to in Pretoria attend the same Mass. My god-daughter is in this group.
What a simple but deeply profound moment of connectedness to unite with my god-daughter, her parents and the other families for half an hour each evening, knowing that we’re listening to the same proclamation of readings, the same homily, and the same consecration, shared so intimately as Fr Chris celebrates Mass at his dining room table.
It has been an experience of connecting as a family around the table of the Lord. Just like the first disciples did in their homes.
Another treasure was praying a decade of the rosary every night with my godson.
We are a group of four friends who share three godchildren. Currently, we live in three cities on two continents.
One mom had the idea that the kids are at a good age to learn to pray the rosary and wanted to make it a Lenten practice by getting the families on a call every day to pray a decade for the needs of the world.
By the time Easter came around, the kids had become comfortable with the prayers and format. They decided they wanted to continue this daily prayer. So every evening at 18:00, we stop what we’re doing, pray together and spend a few minutes catching up on the day.
In the Schoenstatt tradition, the movement’s founder, Fr Joseph Kentenich, used to give an evening blessing at 21:00 every night, and this tradition has continued to the present day in the Schoenstatt communities.
Fr Andrew Pastore, a Schoenstatt Father in Manchester, England, has a five-minute evening prayer on Facebook every night—to review, give thanks, pray for specific intentions and receive a blessing. It’s a beautiful way to end the day and, once again, connect with a priest who played an important part in my spiritual life when I was younger.
These are just three of the unexpected treasures I have discovered from my online window on the world during this period of confinement.
Relationship with God and relationship with one another
There have been many more. But just these three have brought home to me a very important message: When we strip away the busyness and all of the commitments to which we are bound, the only thing we really need in this world—besides food and shelter—is relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with one another.
I cannot remember any other point in my adult life when I consciously set aside three moments of every day to pray in community.
My individual prayer time has always been a solitary practice at the start and end of my day. It was a time for me and God. But how much richer when I can come before God tougher with the people who are closest to me.
The Christian life is not a solitary life. Christianity is communion. We are being starved of our Eucharistic communion.
But perhaps, in our modern, individualist approach to the spiritual life, our partaking of the Eucharist prior to lockdown was a little like eating a pre-processed meal without the real nutrients or benefits.
A Real Vision of the Eucharist
Now we cannot receive Jesus physically, but through this unity with one another, perhaps we are drawing closer to the real vision of Eucharist that Jesus had in mind.
“Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. I’d always interpreted this line from Scripture and the Eucharistic Prayer as a moment to focus exclusively on Christ, to remember his tremendous sacrifice of love for us, but really, in that moment, for me.
A few days ago, it was as if I heard the sentence that precedes it for the first time: “Take this, all of you…”. There is a communal element.
Memory is not individual. Memory is shared experience. Memory is communal. Memory is community. Take this, all of you and do this in memory of me, gathered here with me.
I think my egocentric generation and culture has missed this. We are all called to have a personal relationship with Christ, but not a purely individualistic relationship with him. We are invited to a communal relationship that brings brothers, sisters, family, friends, strangers together into that unity in Christ, into the community and communion of God’s family.
Yes. It has been hard to not receive the Eucharist. In this time, Jesus has given me a renewed appreciation of how I should have been receiving Christ.
And I pray that when we return to our physical parishes and can receive the Eucharist again, it is with a renewed appreciation for the community, physically and spiritually present, with me.