Finding God in the Pandemic
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
I’ve been excited about going to Mass, to varying degrees, since I was a little boy. At age 5, I would wake my mother up at 8 A.M. on a Sunday -- even though I knew we were planning on going to the 11:30 Mass -- because I knew that the 9:30 Mass was “Little People’s Church” where I could hear about Jesus in a way I could understand, and with strong hopes that I would leave with some sort of craft. In high school, I was excited with the leadership of being head altar server for Holy Week, taking point on organizing and preparing for the liturgies to be held over the Triduum. In all of these moments of excitement, however, there was little engagement with the Mass; it was something I did out of habit and a good practice that would make me a better person. I thought little about what it meant to attend Mass and what was actually happening on the altar.
My devotion to Jesus grew tremendously while in college after encountering him in a new and personal way through the Eucharist. The excitement I once felt about attending Mass became the very thing I built my life around, and through different experiences in prayer, became convicted that the Host received during Mass was the body and blood of Jesus. Once this truth settled into my mind and heart, it was easy to make daily Mass and prayer my priority.
Over the past five years, this daily practice had become routinized and the shiny novelty of these deep truths I encountered wore off. It took a global pandemic to call me back to the origins of my love for Christ.
I remember the last Mass that was celebrated in Manning last spring before students were asked to leave campus. It was the first of a long list of cancellations or reworkings that the BRCC faced. Students were notified earlier that day that they were being asked to leave campus in preparation for the Coronavirus pandemic that was ramping up, and members of our community gathered in Manning that day to glean some form of consolation, hope, and community. This Mass was, unbeknownst to me, the last time I would receive the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist -- body, blood, soul, and divinity -- into my body. I knew that these restrictions were put in place with the wellbeing of our community in mind, but as the adage goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
The time in quarantine allowed the space to reflect and ask questions that often get left behind in the busyness of everyday life. One of these questions that came to mind struck me to the heart: “Why do I even go to Mass everyday? I’m getting along just fine without it.” It was easy and comfortable to navigate to YouTube and watch a Mass at whatever hour I wanted, so why am I required to go to Mass on Sundays? In Marian fashion, I began to ponder these things in my heart and to think about where my devotion began.
Jesus Christ and His Church teach that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,” the act that unites his people with himself “in one body,” allows them entrance into the divine life, and provides a foretaste of Heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324-1326). These are lofty ideals, however they find their source in two simple verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16 RSV) and “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:54-56 RSV).
We were made for union with God, and Jesus sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins so that we might have eternal life with him. The Eucharist is a gift that allows us to “abide in” God, for when we receive the Eucharist we are communing with the being who created us, entering into one body with Christ. Though God never tires of drawing closer to his children (CCC 1), frequent reception of the Eucharist is the most tangible way to unite ourselves closer to he who is constantly drawing near to us. I look forward to the day when it once again becomes healthy and safe for hundreds of people to gather into Manning to attend Mass. To be so closely united to God that he physically dwells within us, and to draw closer to my sisters and brothers in communion, is a privilege that we have as Catholics -- and I firmly believe that the Eucharist that one of you receives at a socially-distant Mass in San Francisco is the same Eucharist that I will be receiving at a socially-distant Mass here in Providence. Know that I am praying for all of you, and I will see you in the Eucharist.