Coronavirus restrictions prompt Lenten reflections

| Susan Klemond | March 17, 2020 | 0 Comments

CNS photo/Paul Haring

As Catholics face uncertainty and sacrifice in navigating a world dominated by COVID-19 this Lent, they can find opportunities to grow spiritually, connect with family and better understand the purpose of our lives, several archdiocesan priests said.

“A spiritual opportunity here is to face the reality that in life we live a mystery, not a formula,” said Father Jeff Huard, 64, director of spiritual formation at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

“We much often prefer a formula because it at least gives us a false sense of security, but the reality is we do live a mystery, but we don’t live it alone. God in his love has sent his son and poured out his Holy Spirit.”

Father Huard and two other priests offered faith antidotes for fear, ideas for spiritual growth and leadership especially during Lent and Christian perspectives on death.

Many Americans have the illusion that we can control everything, said Father Jonathan Kelly, 46, formator and spiritual director at St. John Vianney College Seminary, also in St. Paul. “We don’t like not knowing what’s coming but it is spiritually fruitful to experience our dependence and lack of control,” he said. “If we’re moving or living in faith it leads to spiritual poverty and surrender to the providence of God.”

We need to surrender to the Lord in confidence rather than resigning in despair, Father Kelly said.

In times of “severe mercy” God helps us focus on what really matters rather than our fear, Father Huard said. “When your joy and peace are being rocked you have to say, ‘where’s my hope?’,” he said. “Am I getting paralyzed with fear?”

Christ doesn’t leave us in misery, he joins us, Father Huard said, encouraging Catholics to look often at the cross and lean into the Blessed Mother and the communion of saints.

Despite the challenge of not knowing what’s ahead, it’s a good time to be Catholic because we understand the sacrifice of Lent and the abundant life of Easter, said Father James Livingston, 62, pastor of St. Paul in Ham Lake.

“I think it’s a great time for us to be leaders and not reactors — to think in terms of the common good and of the beauty of the sacrifice versus selfishness,” he said.

People can show others the difference between the long-term good that faith teaches us and the present moment with its limitations, Father Livingston said.

“This will be a moment when people remember in the future a moment of kindness, a moment of patience, a moment of graciousness.”

SURRENDER NOVENA OFFERS ENCOURAGEMENTOne act of surrender is worth more than a thousand prayers, shares an Italian priest whose cause for canonization is underway, Father Dolindo Ruotolo, in his simple “Surrender Novena.”

The novena has been a source of consolation for many who bring their needs and worries to the Lord.Father Ruotolo, who lived in Naples, Italy, from 1882 to 1970, was a contemporary of St. Padre Pio and is now a Servant of God, one step away from beatification. He suffered greatly during his life and wrote of being visited on several occasions by Jesus and of Christ giving him the novena.

It consists of short paragraphs of instruction and encouragement for each of nine days, followed by the prayer: “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.”

The novena and a short biography of Father Ruotolo can be found at tinyurl.com/ruotolo.

It’s also a time to be creative in using our skills and gifts to spiritually and socially support each other, such as teaching family computer skills, Father Livingston said.

Social media enables us to communicate without spreading the virus, he said. Families can deepen their spiritual connection by praying the rosary or reading the Bible together, even if they’re not in the same location, he said.

And, if families can’t attend Mass, they can read the prayers and readings together, he said.

Families should have a prayer they say together every day — a petition to guard the family and to intercede for the health of the world, said Father Huard, recommending especially Psalms 62 and 91, and Romans 15:13, to ask God for joy, peace and hope through the Holy Spirit.

Another way to increase a spiritual connection is by enthroning in the home the Sacred Heart of Our Lord and Immaculate Heart of his Mother, based on Christ’s statements to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Father Kelly said.

Living closely with one another rubs off our edges and offers a source of holiness, he added.

“We realize we don’t always get our own way and we can love others in their imperfections and weaknesses, and if others love us in our imperfections and weaknesses it often softens them,” he said. “We can pray together, give each other the benefit of the doubt, realize we’re under stress, and be quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness.”

Father Livingston recommended reading Romans 12 and Ephesians 4-5 to learn about practicing Christian charity. Lessons in charity are among the life and spiritual lessons we learn during Lent and the other Church seasons, he said.

“Lent is a time for us to be reminded that God is faithful in the midst of difficult times and this abundant life that we all want, the Easter life that comes, but God is faithful while we’re in the desert,” Father Livingston said.

As the coronavirus crisis hits hard during Lent, we should be grateful every day for all Christ suffered in love for us, Father Huard said.

The crisis provides us with a forced retreat that aligns with what the Church asks of us anyway: to enter into Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, Father Kelly said. It also gives us more motivation to focus on Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, he said.

We should dispose our hearts to letting God’s kingdom come and be attentive to what he’s doing, Father Kelly said.

“I think our disposition is God actively laboring, he’s working right now, he’s loving the world and we’re participating in that as his children in confidence that he wants to recreate the world,” Father Kelly said.

One way to be open to God’s will, Father Kelly said, is to pray the Surrender Novena of Servant of God Father Dolindo Ruotolo.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the mainstays of life, ancient tools of the Church for emptying ourselves, said Father Huard, recommending Catholics read 1 Corinthians 13 and Philippians 2.

“Let’s pray that this would be a time of self-emptying love for us in which we stay put in hope,” he said.

There are still opportunities to help the poor by practicing almsgiving, Father Huard said, even if it’s not possible to contribute financially. Giving clothes away is another option, he noted.

Along with prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent, this crisis is causing many to think about the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell, he said.

Threats to our lives help us focus our lives, Father Huard said, and according to St. John Chrysostom, one of the main ways to deal with death is to live the Christian life deeply.

St. Ignatius of Loyola instructed Catholics to imagine the end of their lives as a context for discernment, said Father Kelly.  “What choice would I have wanted to make at those moments in my life, at the end of my life and recalling my life, when I meet Jesus?” he asked. “Make that choice now and you’ll be happy and enjoy eternal life with God.”

Our Catholic tradition is to remember death, Father Kelly said, and while we have a desire to preserve life it’s not bad to recall the inevitable.

Ultimately, we must remember that our lives are in God’s hands, he said. Citing Psalm 27 and Romans 8, Father Kelly added, “Nothing happens that God can’t use for good.”

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