Strengthening Your Faith in a Time of Crisis
In spite of having recently celebrated Easter, for many of us, our everyday lives continue to feel just as penitential as they did during the liturgical season of Lent. It can be difficult to feel the joy of the risen Christ when the majority of the world continues to be so negatively impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The Catholics of the world have been affected in an unique way, since in addition to suffering the practical consequences of this global pandemic, most are currently unable to attend mass or receive the sacraments.
This can feel disheartening in several ways. First, the fact that masses have been canceled and sacraments are unavailable is a sign of the extent of the pandemic, which is more than enough to induce anxiety. Second, for many of us Catholics, this is the first time that we have experienced a deprivation of mass or of the sacraments for any reason. Although surely many of us have not attended mass or frequented the sacraments as often as they were available, it is startling to no longer be able to partake in them at all, or in very limited ways. In these ways, the lack of mass and the sacraments is both practically and spiritually disheartening.
However, as is always the case in Catholicism, experiencing a deprivation or suffering of any kind is an opportunity for us to join ourselves to the suffering of Christ, and seek to strengthen our spiritual lives in this way. In addition, since we may have more time in our lives due to social distancing or shelter-in-place orders, we may also be faced with the opportunity to incorporate something new into our prayer lives, such as praying the Liturgy of the Hours or praying a daily rosary if we are not already.
Ora et Labora
One of the opportunities that can arise from this time of isolation (and, for many, loneliness) is the ability to mindfully consider how we can incorporate elements of the monastic life into our everyday lives. In more normal times, it is incredibly easy for us to become distracted and busy, and offer little thought to mindful prayer. An unusual and more isolated time such as this one can provide us with the opportunity to incorporate a monastic sense of routine, contemplation and quiet into our lives, though we are still faced with whatever practical work may be at hand.
Although it can be tempting only to increase the amount of distractions in our life by endlessly reading the news or obsessively checking in on social media, making concerted efforts to increase intentional silence in our lives can bring us much closer to a sense of contemplation. Something that we may find helpful is to consider the motto of the Benedictines. The spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict, written by St. Benedict of Nursia in 516 as a directive for monks living communally, can be summed up in two Latin phrases: pax (peace) and ora et labora (pray and work). The former gives us a foundational directive that reminds us that we can use a time of crisis to seek to develop interior peace. The latter helps show us how prayer and work can be seen not as opposites, but rather as partners.
The idea that prayer and work go hand in hand is especially helpful if we are seeking to improve our spiritual lives, but remain faced with everyday tasks and responsibilities. It can feel as though it is impossible to pursue contemplation while simultaneously fulfilling such obligations. St. Benedict, however, would disagree, as he believed in combining contemplation with action and pursuing prayer in this way. Although our lives may look like a far cry from the lives of monks, we can use this time to incorporate the motto of the Benedictines into our everyday habits so that in all things we may seek to grow closer to God.
In the Absence of Routine, Finding Another
For many, routines have not diverged a tremendous amount from the normal ones. Perhaps we are required to go to work as usual, or we spend our time as stay-at-home parents already. For many others, however, structure and rhythm are things that have been entirely upended in this time. Suddenly many are faced with the necessity to scramble for additional work, childcare, and other means of stability.
Such disruptions prove stressful to varyingdegrees. Much of the advice given to those who are struggling with these disruptions centers around forming a new routine that incorporates all the essential tasks of daily life, balanced with additional activities or elements that uplift each person. If we are thinking about this in a spiritual way, we can accomplish exactly that through certain forms of prayer. Although there are many options for various forms of prayer and spiritual reading, in a time of uncertainty, it can help to return to well-known and rhythmic forms of prayer. Examples include the rosary or the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, especially in light of having recently celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday.
Devoutly praying a rosary can accomplish numerous things. First, the repeated recitation of familiar prayers can lead us to a sense of peace and order. Second, and more importantly, it has been said many times that the rosary is one the most powerful things in the Church, after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As Sister Lúcia, who witnessed the apparitions at Fátima as a child, said: “There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot solve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
In a similar way, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy is both a powerful set of prayers and a balm to an anxious mind. This chaplet originated with St. Faustina Kowalska, who heard the words interiorly during a turbulent time. As she continued to pray the words that were being revealed to her over time, she continued to receive revelations from Christ. In these revelations, He attached great promises to the recitation of the chaplet just as Mary attached her fifteen promises to the rosary.
Another way we can incorporate additional prayer and structure into our lives is by praying the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has noted that the purpose of this is “marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer.” The Divine Office forms the basis of prayer in the life of the monastic. Although the laity is in no way obliged to pray it, doing so is an opportunity to unite all hours of our lives to the Church and also to incorporate a sense of monasticism into our everyday lives, as we discussed previously. It also gives us the ability to reflect on the longevity and permanence of the Church, since much of the Divine Office consists of Scripture, and has formed part of public worship from the earliest days of the Church. This knowledge can be especially comforting in turbulent or uncertain times, and it reminds us that in spite of earthly discomfort, God’s will is always done, and the peace of eternity always persists.
Connection in a Time of Isolation
Finally, this unique time of isolation gives us an opportunity to connect with those with whom we may not otherwise. This can mean several things.
In one way, we can seek to care for our neighbor in whatever ways we can, and in doing so reflect on certain works of mercy, such as “comfort the afflicted,” “feed the hungry” and “pray for the living and the dead.”
Another way we can join ourselves to others is by taking the extra time to acquaint ourselves with the writings of various popes and saints with whom we may not be familiar. By doing so, we can remember that in the Church, we are never alone in our trials and tribulations, and are surrounded by the wisdom and holiness of all those who have gone before us. All things are united together in Christ. We can remember the words of the great Pope St. John Paul II, as he said: “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.”