Monday, 30 March 2020 12:45

Lessons from Life in Lockdown….

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The world is spinning quickly right now with the great challenge of confronting the rapidly spreading coronavirus.  Most of the talk – among individuals, on social media, on news outlets – centers on the virus.  There is a lot of information being circulated and probably even more opinions.  I happen to be an American living in Italy right now, and I am experiencing first hand life in lockdown.   I am no virus expert, do not spend a lot of time reading the news for new information and do not feel as educated as others to make a statement as to how I think this is being handled here in Italy, in the States or worldwide. 

However I do have some observations to make, some lessons I am being taught, while living under lockdown rules that I think may potentially benefit others.  Those of you reading this may already be in lockdown mode as well or maybe not yet.  Even so, life is undergoing some changes in the United States as well.  I am reading reports of extended school spring breaks, universities going to online school, public event cancellations, and suspensions of public Mass.  So yes, life is changing rapidly, and I for one, believe there is much to be gained from this.

So here are my observations, in no particular order:

Timing – It has not fallen on deaf ears here that this lockdown has occurred during the great penitential time in the Church liturgical season, Lent.  As our human nature often shows we prefer to tell God what we plan on doing.  Our plans for our lives, our plans for next year, and yes, our plans for Lent.  This year Lord I plan on giving up sweets, working out, reading the Bible every day, praying more…you get the idea.  I am not criticizing-I too do this.  Even the great King David did this-he made plans to do “good” things.  Remember in 2 Samuel 7 when he declared that it was unjust for him to be living in a palace while the Ark of the Covenant dwelt in a tent?  He proclaimed that he was going to have a temple built for the Lord.  This sounds like a great thing, right?  But shortly after that statement we read that God told David HIS plans-that David’s son would build the temple, not David.  I think this is a David moment for us all.  A few weeks ago we went into Lent with our list of things, good things, we would do for God.  And those things are still probably good.  But God is now telling us look, this is what I will do.  Now the question is what will we do with it?

What has been lost – All you have to do to find out what is being lost for many is to read the list of things one is not allowed to do while in lockdown.  You cannot leave your house except for…, you cannot stand within a certain reach of others, you cannot go to Mass. And in the States as well, the list of events cancelled and modifications made to other life tasks is growing.  In the average person’s view, these are all negative restrictions.  Please hear me well here, I do believe there are things we are losing here.  But with each loss I believe there is something greater we can gain.  Even with a loss of Mass – and believe me – I think this is the greatest loss – there is something we can gain.  The founder of the Home of the Mother, Father Rafael Alonso Reymundo, once made this beautiful statement at the funeral of his spiritual Mother; “Thank you Father, for all that You give me, and thank You also for all that You take from me, because all that You give me and all that You take from me proceeds from Your love”.  Is it God’s will that the Mass has been taken from us at the moment?  I do not know.  No one knows.  But we do know that for some reason He has permitted it to be so.  And so we must take this opportunity to learn, to grow, and to become what He wants of us.

What can be gained – so what in the world can be gained by all of this mess, you may say?  The list is long, I do believe, and here I do not have enough time to touch on them all.  But here are a few: 

Let’s start with the most important thing lost – the Mass.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting from Vatican II), in paragraph 1324 reminds us that “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life” Is it?  Does this ring true in your life?  Now that the Eucharist has been taken from us, I suppose we should really spend some time reflecting on this statement.  My prayer and hope is that we all have our hearts ignited with a great love and zeal for Jesus in the Eucharist.  Now is a good time for us to re-read the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, listening  and meditating upon the words of Jesus.  It is often said that you do not know what you have until it has been taken away from you.  True, the Eucharist is part of the mysteries of our faith and it is beyond our reach to completely comprehend it, but to believe the Lord’s words in faith, this is not impossible.  If you have trouble believing, say to the Lord the words of the father of the boy who was possessed in the book of Mark, “Lord I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Now is the time for us to grow in our desire for the Mass and the Eucharist.  Jesus’s disciples were criticized by John’s disciples because the fasted much and Jesus’s disciples did not.  Jesus replied “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15).  He has now been taken away from us.  And while we can spend some of our time fighting for Mass to be given still, debating, signing petitions and such, what we should do is fast.  This fasting should increase our hunger for the Eucharist.  When we experience the physical hunger pangs of Lenten fasting may we be reminded, particularly so this desert Lent, that only Jesus, the true Bread of Life, can fill that hunger.  May we be convicted that the signs of hunger we feel in our body should be overshadowed by the pangs of hunger our soul feels for our beloved bridegroom.  We have lost the irreplaceable opportunity of attending holy Mass at the moment, but let us not lose the chance this gives us to grow in our desire for the Eucharist. 

What else is there to be gained, you may ask?  The opportunity to connect and grow.  Wait a minute, you may say- we are being restricted from much (if not all) social interaction.  Schools are being shut down, people are teleworking, university classrooms are now internet portals, parks are closed, there are no weekly club meetings, sports have been put on hold, and we cannot attend church events together now.  How is this a chance to connect? How can this be a time of growth?  It seems to be a time of great stunting of growth.   Scott Hahn said it so well when he said that the family “is the primary field of evangelization, the primary place each one of us is called to proclaim Christ” (Evangelizing Catholics; A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization).   The ones we are to love well and love better in this moment have been placed right in front of us; our family.  Your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings – whomever you live with.  Now is your chance to connect.  Now is your chance to focus on loving them and loving them well.  This day in age we spend so much time with “others”.  Time is spent with coworkers, schoolmates, teammates, friends – often family members who live together spend more time with others than with each other.  While all outside socialization is becoming more restrictive, nothing can stop you from socializing and connecting with the people God has put right in front of you.  This is an opportunity for us to all grow in many virtues.  Two virtues that I can think of that stand out particularly during this time are patience and charity.  Yes, it is true that when I am “locked in” with the same people day in and day out, with the ones who know me best, who know my quirks and negative traits and I theirs, this is the time that will be most trying.  Ah, but where there is a chance for great struggle there is an even greater opportunity for virtue gained!  Let’s not waste this opportunity!  Use each interaction as a chance to grow in love for others, to exercise patience, to choose to love, and to love well.  It is as if we have been given a “spring training” opportunity.  Those of you who are familiar with American football also know about the spring training camps that happen around this time of year.  The athletes and coaches put in long hours of practice, exercising and training in order to prepare for the upcoming fall football season.  It seems to me we are being given a spring training of sorts in our own homes.  It is time to exercise with great diligence, patience, and charity.  If we cannot practice these virtues in our own homes, we will never be able to practice them with others outside our homes either. 

The last point I am going to make about things to be gained is prayer. If after weeks of lockdown and restrictive social living we do not come out of it as people of greater prayer then I fear what God will need to do in each of our lives to get us to that point.  We now should all have more of one thing we lacked before – time.  We have more time to give to each other in our families and more time to give to God.  In theory, we should have more silence now as well.  Without the distractions of the outside world and our normal obligations there is more of a chance to focus on what is most important.  I challenge us all to refrain from the temptation to fill the void of work, church, and other of our normal social gatherings and routines with noise; the noise of added social media, online presence, and other forms of entertainment.  It will be the temptation of many of us to watch more TV, to listen to more music, to play more video games, to spend more time on social media sites.  I believe we should fight that temptation.  First, we should increase our time in prayer.  It is a perfect opportunity to grow in your faith.  Do you read the Bible daily?  If not, now is the perfect time to start that habit.  What about watching reliable faith forming programming on TV instead of checking off more of your movies to watch list?  It is a great time to pick up a spiritual book, one on the life of a saint or a book to help you understand a tenant of the faith that  you need to understand more deeply.  Now is the time to talk more with your children and spouse about the things that matter in life, to add more prayer as a family, to focus your efforts more on the “praying without ceasing” that Saint Paul recommends to us (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Is it wrong to have some added family movie nights in the upcoming weeks, play some board games, and have some decent chuckles with friends on social media – I do not think so. These things can help us maintain a good attitude throughout it all.  But if we do not come out of this more purified, with an increased holy purpose in life, with a better prayer life and with some type of fruit, then I think we will have missed out on a great opportunity that the Lord is gifting us with.  

I will close with one of Jesus’ parables.  Do you remember the parable where Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to the ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom (to be found in Matthew 25)?  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  They all fell asleep because the bridegroom was delayed but when he did finally arrive, only 5 of them (the wise ones of course) had oil for their lamps and went into the wedding feast.  The foolish ones went off to buy some oil and while they were gone, the doors to the wedding feast were locked.  Jesus ends the parable with these words “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).  The world has stopped for many of us right now.  It is a surreal albeit, but unique moment in history for most of us.  Carpe diem!  Seize the day!  Let us fill our lamps with oil now, before the bridegroom arrives and it is too late.  

 

Monica MartinezMonica is a married mother of 6 who is an enthusiastic convert to the Catholic Church and a lay member of the Home of the Mother. For many years she was a teacher and counselor in the public school system but now she labors with love in her home teaching and counseling the hearts of her own children.