In this Holy Week, in a year of pandemic, many Christians are contemplating an Easter when they will be unable to celebrate by attending church in person. Some will struggle to recall the last time they missed Easter services. Some will even have trouble remembering the last weekend they missed church.
Most Catholics have not been able to receive the Eucharist for a few weeks and look forward to an uncertain time when this spiritual fast will be broken. Non-Catholics may have difficulty understanding the longing this creates. The sense of deprivation. Is hunger a reasonable word to use? Perhaps. I hesitate to use it, because it may create an inappropriate connection in a world in which many hungry people live. People who are malnourished. Children who starve.
Some Catholics are resentful that their local parishes and dioceses are not providing access to Holy Communion. Some pastors and bishops seem resentful that stay-at-home orders bind them from being able to offer this and other sacraments at a time when other exceptions to stay-at-home orders, such as getting a vehicle repaired, are allowed. These feelings are understandable.
As a layperson, I humbly offer a suggestion for those resentful Catholics. Perhaps a kind of devotional. A way of praying in a time of deprivation. And a suggestion for parents: If your children are complaining about what they cannot do and do not have, consider listening, offer your understanding, and then recommend the following for your children.
This is what I am trying to do. I reflect with gratitude on what I have. As I write this, I am employed and working at home when many are unemployed. I have no immediate anxiety about paying my bills. There is enough food in the house that Marilyn and I can endure more weeks unable to leave home. There are people willing to bring us food if we need it. To my knowledge, I do not have the virus. My wife does not seem to have it. Neither do our three adult daughters; neither do our sons-in-law. Our grandchildren are well. Technology, dedicated teachers, and their devoted (if somewhat frazzled) parents are helping our grandchildren, and countless other students, to continue their education.
My parish live-streams the daily Mass, Sunday Mass, and Holy Week services. It offers video and written messages intended to comfort. Priests and lay leaders offer ways of remaining connected to parish and church while the doors remain closed.
I am grateful to have friends. One friend in my neighborhood brought me a loaf of fresh homemade bread this week! And I have a large group of friends who I have not met. I have people who pick up our household garbage, bring us mail and packages, and are willing to sell us groceries if we need them. I have friends who are keeping my electricity on and maintaining (mostly) reliable Internet service.
There are my friends I haven’t met who are taking care of people who are sick in clinics and hospitals and will take care of me or any member of my family who gets sick, even though it puts their own lives in danger. They are joined by underpaid home health workers, environmental services workers, and all who keep our medical system operating.
I have medical and public health experts who are working tirelessly to combat the virus and to make the difficult and largely unappreciated decisions about how to get us through this pandemic.
When I think about several weeks of not being able to receive Holy Communion, when I feel a sense of deprivation, I offer that up—as we Catholics say—for all who are otherwise deprived. Deprived of their livelihood and their businesses. Deprived of their health and in danger of dying. Deprived of the sense of safety that they will be able, literally, to draw their next breath. Deprived of the presence of their loved ones, even as they are gravely ill, or as they are dying. I meditate on those who will be deprived by the death of their loved ones. I think about those who have been deprived of their lives.
This helps me avoid complaining and resentment. It makes my spiritual deprivation seem far less significant. It makes it feel bearable because I know, for myself, that it is bearable and much less of a burden than that being experienced by so many of my brothers and sisters. It allows my deprivation to change into a prayer for all those who are sick, all who have died, all who have lost their loved ones, all who work every day to protect my loved ones and myself even if it means they might lay down their lives for their friends.