“Even though we may not be able to receive Him sacramentally, He is with us.”
Most of us never thought we would live through a time when we did not have easy access to the sacraments. How do we remain grounded in our faith and our relationship with Christ and His Church when our lifelines seem cut? In a time when the days run into each other and the uncertainty of the future threatens our peace, how do we remain faithful Catholics? If there were times when we seemed to only survive the storms by receiving the Eucharist, how do we stay sane now? The following suggestions are practical and nothing fancy. But I hope they might help.
Create a designated prayer spot.
It can be difficult to pray in our own homes, surrounded by distraction or simply the things of our everyday lives. Many of us don’t have the option to go to an adoration chapel or church to pray these days. While we know we should still be cultivating a prayer life, it can be extra difficult under the circumstances. Some of us find that home has become even more distracting. It’s impossible to escape the office when the office is now in your house. Our homes might feel much smaller now, with added stress and responsibilities, and the cabin fever settling in. Designate a spot in your home for prayer. Try to remove distractions from it; make it separate from your temporary home office or homeschooling classroom and other responsibilities. Add sacred art or something on which you can focus your attention when distractions arise. Create a refuge where you can go pray.
Pick one or two things to do well.
Don’t be afraid to add to your usual routine – especially if in normal times you usually attend Mass frequently. You want to continue to try to bolster your prayer life, and it’s going to look differently right now. But I caution against trying to do everything. I think there’s a tendency to try to keep adding to your prayer routine – adding in this or that devotion – in an unconscious attempt to try to fill the void of sacramental communion. You can’t. You can’t escape the fact that your spiritual life is going to feel differently right now. It should feel differently.
There is a plethora of resources out there right now, for a variety of reasons. Many apostolates, parishes, dioceses, and Catholic outlets are trying to help us fill our spare time with good content and help us take advantage of this new slower pace of life. Others are trying to take advantage of this time to get new followers or customers. And still others are just trying to keep their own sanity by creating content that brings them joy. But don’t try to do everything. Focus on one or two things and enter into them well. If you have more time, add one more thing. But you aren’t going to be able to listen every online talk, watch every Facebook live, participate in every online retreat. It’s amazing that there is so much for us right now. So do something. Just don’t try to do everything.
Stick to a routine.
Some of you are finding that you have too much time on your hands, perhaps because of a loss of a job or simply an inability to do much of what once filled your time. There’s a temptation to fill the time with distracted scrolling and empty television watching. On the flip side, some of you are finding you don’t have enough time on your hands, as you’ve added “teacher” to your resume or your responsibilities at work have increased, your days being filled with Zoom meetings and attempts to continue business as usual. Not only is spiritual life is finding a backseat, your basic physical and emotional needs are as well.
Strive to enter into a routine. If you once had a morning routine before work that included prayer, try to keep that up. Don’t neglect your physical needs. It may be tempting to work in our pajamas, not shower for days, and eat junk food. But all of those things are going to exacerbate the general malaise that this time of uncertainty is already producing. Exercise self-discipline in your days, and you’ll find it spilling into your spiritual life as well.
Keep Sunday holy.
One of the threats the Lord’s Day faced used to be, in the words of John Paul II, “the custom of the ‘weekend.’” It is not that there aren’t great benefits to the “weekend,” but, as the Pope cautioned, “when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a ‘weekend’, it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see ‘the heavens.’ Hence, though ready to celebrate, they are really incapable of doing so” (Dies Domini 4). In this new time, it’s not that Sunday has become lost in a weekend, but that Sunday has been lost to every other day of the week as well. Days blend into one another. Due to our dispensation from our Sunday obligation, there is a real danger in losing the celebration of the Lord’s day altogether. Sunday simply becomes another day in the fuzzy passing of time. Instead, make a concentrated effort to honor the Lord’s day. Avoid work. Fix a special dinner. Gather as a family to pray. Add something to your prayer routine that sets Sunday apart.
Make acts of spiritual communion.
St Thomas Aquinas defines spiritual communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him.” Beg Him to come to you. Express your longing and desire. And then sit there in silence, welcoming Him into your heart. Will praying acts of spiritual communion “feel” differently than receiving sacramental communion? Probably. It may feel like an extreme act of faith, to pray that prayer and beg our Lord and trust that He is coming. There’s a reason, after all, that the sacraments are outward signs – that Christ attached grace to visible matter. We are humans, and we need concrete realities to convey invisible mysteries. So yes, to our human hearts and bodies, spiritual communion might be difficult for us. But continue to pray and trust that spiritual communion is real communion. While receiving the Eucharist sacramentally produces more fully the effects, do not forget, as Aquinas asserts, “the effect of the sacrament can be secured by every man if he receive it in desire, though not in reality” (ST III, q. 80, a. 1, ad 3).
These are little ways we can stay sane during this strange time. None of these things are unique to this time of quarantine. These are habits that can be established now and adapted to our lives when we are able to return to Mass.
God has not abandoned us. He is not distant. Even though we may not be able to receive Him sacramentally, He is with us. In the midst of this perplexing, uncertain, and frustrating time, stop and ask what He is trying to say to us now. How is he trying to work? And how can we continue to make room in our lives for Him?
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