I’ve been Christian my whole life, but hands down this has been the most challenging Lent so far. Honestly, I thought it was going to be really hard to give up sugar and sweets for forty days. My morning cup of coffee and oatmeal were just not going to taste the same. But, I had no idea that I would be going without staples of everyday life like sending our kids to school, attending Mass, watching the NBA, or having a well-stocked grocery store while people around me began falling seriously ill and even dying. It looks like the pandemic and social distancing will last long past Easter. So, while Lent will officially end on Easter Sunday, I’m going to continue the three pillars of the Lenten journey found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6: 1-16 – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – until our nation and the world is restored to health.
Along with so many people of faith, I am heartbroken by having our houses of worship closed indefinitely. But I find solace in people around the globe uniting in prayer. Many priests, pastors, and religious organizations are livestreaming their services, prayers, and Bible studies. With most social activities cancelled, I’ve had time to read more spiritually fruitful books, pray with family and community, and grow closer to Jesus. When I say pray, I don’t mean sending “positive thoughts out into the universe.” I communicate with the God who created the universe and everything in it, through his Son, Jesus Christ. The God who made a covenant with his people and promises that he’ll protect, provide for, and love His children. So, I’m praying for protection from Covid-19, health and healing for everyone affected, strength for those essential workers both treating people in hospitals and also keeping our grocery stores open, packages delivered, and all those who have lost their jobs.
Don’t get me wrong – I will definitely start eating sweets again. But while our lives are disrupted, we’ll have to fast from things we enjoy. Someone on facebook had a great idea of a quarantine jar. Whenever you want to do something you can’t, like have a dinner date at your favorite restaurant, or a gym workout, or attend a concert, you write down that activity and put it in the quarantine jar. Then when this is all over, you’ll pull out one of those pieces of paper and relish doing what we once took for granted. While I’m “fasting” from many good things, I’ll make sure to offer it up as a sacrifice. In Colossians 1:24, St. Paul states, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Just as Christ accepted the assistance of Simon of Cyrene as he carried the cross on the road to redeeming the world, I can offer up my suffering through this pandemic and unite it with Christ’s suffering. St. Rose of Lima said, “Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” So, whenever I’m reminded of something I cannot do during this quarantine, I will say a prayer as I fill my quarantine jar.
Now more than ever people are going to need generosity. With millions of people unemployed, it’s also good to mention there are countless ways to help others by offering our time, talent and treasure to those people and organizations in need. In March, I had finally taken the leap and began tithing 10% of my income to the church. Then when the shelter-in-place order happened, and with my job no longer guaranteed, I thought, now was the worst time to start tithing. Then I perceived the Holy Spirit saying, now is the perfect time to tithe and trust God will continue to provide for you and your family.
Lent always starts to feel too hard, too long, and like there’s no end in sight. But, Easter Sunday always comes. Similarly, with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as my guide through this pandemic, I know we’ll get through the other side and emerge refined and strengthened from the crisis.
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:16