Desert Times

Uncertainty. That seems to be the only constant nowadays. Times are uncertain and have been for a little while now. What I write today, Friday, March 27, will not be the same on the day this blog post is published, Tuesday, March 31. What is going on in my home state of Ohio is not the same for readers from (insert state name here). But, yet, we all share similar experiences, thoughts, and feelings about this COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are working from home. Our children are doing online distance-learning. Our cupboards are stocked with essentials, and grocery store shelves are bare. We are worried about our own health and the health of those we love. We can list the COVID-19 vs. common cold vs. flu symptoms. Our eyes have been glued to our screens anxiously waiting for the latest information, whether it be from social media, news media, or straight from our governors’ mouths.

I see similarities in these times and these feelings to today’s first reading from the Book of Numbers. The children of Israel, their patience, being worn out by the journey compares to us being sick of “social distancing” and quarantine. There is complaining. We see complaining all over our social media feeds and probably hear it enough with our own ears in between the four walls of our houses. Lacking food or water compares to the empty shelves we see when we go shopping, looking for the bare necessities to get us through this time. COVID-19 could be the seraph serpents that are biting the people, many of whom died. And, yes, of course, we have been praying that this virus comes to an end, much like the Israelites prayed that the Lord take the serpents away from them.

While we are all sharing similar experiences, readers, one thing we also share, another link we have in common, is our faith. This faith may be a source of comfort to you during this time, or it might also be struggling in the face of darkness, like everything else in the world. It may be easy to see Churches locked and public celebration of Mass suspended as a sign of despair and of hopelessness – that God has abandoned His people in the midst of crisis. Brothers and sisters, we are in the midst of Lent. Yes, liturgically and in the sense of dates and the calendar, but also literally.

We are in the desert, side-by-side with the Lord. We hunger and thirst for an end to this terrible illness, for the opportunity to hug our family and friends and, most especially, for the Eucharist. And we can take a small bit of comfort in knowing that Christ hungers and thirsts for these things right alongside us. The Lord does not want suffering, sickness, and death. He does not want to be torn apart from those that He loves, and He wants to be present with us and to us in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. For all these reasons and more, not wanting to spend life without us, God sent His only Son into the world to become human and redeem humanity through suffering and death. This is what we prepare our hearts for during Lent. This is what we are preparing our hearts for in this time of pandemic-induced crisis. Our greatest desire is for certainty, for hope, for joy, and for light. We desire the Easter Resurrection that is to come, and we will rejoice again at the Table of the Lord. We will rejoice in social gatherings and groups of our families and friends.

For those who are feeling distanced from the Church – as someone who works for a local parish, let me be the first to tell you – the Church is adapting. The Church is overcoming. The Church is finding new ways to reach its flock. Many individual parishes have started recording or streaming Masses for their faith. And if your parish hasn’t gotten there yet, I can guarantee you that they are working on it. They are desperate to meet you where you are at – which is at home, “social distancing” and under quarantine. Other parishes have already reached steps even beyond that, with Eucharistic holy hours, Bible studies and discipleship all taking place in the digital realm. The Pope has brought the worldwide community of the faithful together at appointed times for prayer – the rosary, the Our Father, the Urbi et Orbi blessing, and probably more to come – for the eradication of this virus and healing for those affected by it.

The Church will be there, waiting for you when we are able to return. We just need to be patient until we can get to that “Easter morning.” May we return with much rejoicing, with a heart that has been sufficiently prepared for the moment and with great faith in the hope of Jesus Christ.

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Erin is a Cleveland native and graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Following graduation, she began volunteering in youth ministry at her home parish of Holy Family Church. Her first “big girl” job was in collegiate sports information where, after a busy two years in the profession on top of serving the youth, she took a leap of faith and followed the Lord’s call to full-time youth ministry at St. Peter Church. She still hopes to use her communication arts degree as a freelance writer and statistician, though. You can catch her on the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter @erinmadden2016.