Living in the Time of #CancelEverything
Facing life without the Eucharist, Christina asks, "Could this really be for us? How can this decision be for our good?"
Yesterday afternoon, my school president announced that we would be closing and transitioning to online learning for at least one month. This came shortly after Governor Inslee of Washington State prohibited gatherings of 250 or more, while the King County Executive prohibited gatherings of 250 or less that didn’t meet certain health requirements. Within an hour, Seattle Public Schools finally decided to close after weeks of deliberation. And finally, just before I left work, Archbishop Etienne announced that all public Masses in Western Washington have been suspended indefinitely. With that, my throat finally found its way into my stomach.
We had spent weeks reading about new COVID-19 cases and deaths each day, training for online teaching and learning, and preparing ourselves for whatever was to come. Now it was all happening at once: no school, no students, no gatherings, no Lent Retreat, no Eucharist. Why now? We know the severity of the situation and the importance of social distancing. But was it really necessary to take away the Eucharist, now that we need it more than ever?
Out of some mixture of denial and hope, I went directly from work to the 5:30pm Mass at the Cathedral. Maybe Father hasn’t heard the news. Maybe he’ll be kind and give us one last chance to receive the Eucharist. Yet, when I arrived, I found myself joined by several other disappointed adults, seeking solace in the Eucharist and yet not finding it.
I started to help spread the word. “Masses have been suspended,” I told a man who seemed to be in his eighties. “Oh yes, I know. This is hard, isn’t it?” he said. “We just don’t know what to do without the Mass, do we?” he asked. My heart broke.
I walked to the side chapel to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, where I found myself kneeling alongside several others, mostly elderly women, praying silently. Here are people who love the Eucharist. Here are people who live sustained by the concrete Presence of God. They care more about Him now than about the risk of coronavirus. Could this decision really be for us? How is this for our good?
I headed home, feeling shaken and confused, yet wanting to trust the fatherhood of the Archbishop. Some of us had been texting about the whole situation. “Do you want to come over for a rosary?” I asked. Within an hour, six of my friends were with me, sharing our experiences and reactions to this whirlwind of a day. A priest, three teachers, a professor, an architect, all disrupted in various ways, yet unified in our desire to live this time attentively and with hope.
As we prayed the Luminous Mysteries, meditating on Father Giussani’s reflection about the Institution of the Eucharist, my heart felt heavy with longing for the fleshly Presence of my God. Yet, by the time we had finished praying, I was lighter and even curious about what this might mean for us. I noticed that, strangely, I had hope.
In our prayer and our companionship, I experienced something unexpected: I am not being left alone. No, I cannot receive the Eucharist. Yet there are people who live as attentively and intensely as I want to live, and they are here! In joining together in our longing, I discovered that I had hope in these people through whom I meet Christ in the flesh, today, now, even in this!
Further, I see that I am in a position of begging more today than I was yesterday. I want Christ more. I need Him more. I don’t want to settle for anything less. And in small moments--a rosary with friends, a phone call, a text from New York, helpful words from a priest--I see a glimpse that maybe this cross can invite me to grow closer to Him, both in his Passion and in his Resurrection.
During a phone call with Father Jim in which we decided to cancel our Lenten Retreat, he shared that Mark 2:18-20 may be particularly relevant to us now:
Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?” Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast."
Perhaps we have an opportunity to live prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in a new and deeper way this Lenten season, an opportunity to live with a renewed tension toward Him for whom my heart longs.
Christina, Seattle, Washington