Father Damien Cook, left, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Omaha, and Father Ben Boyd, associate pastor, show off an estimated 700 photos of parishioners – especially school children – they placed in the pews of the church with the help of parish volunteers. In an online video on the parish’s YouTube channel, the priests said they undertook the effort because it’s hard celebrating Mass “for the people without the people.” The video’s description explained that while priests and parishioners share the sadness of not coming together for Mass during the coronavirus pandemic, visitors to the church can still experience the joy of remembering fellow parishioners and know they are still connected through the Holy Spirit. DAN ROSSINI/STAFF

News

Joy amidst sadness: Coronavirus precipitates a Lent, Holy Week like no other

Lent is a time of sacrifice.

But few Catholics ever dreamed they’d be called to sacrifice so much.

With coronavirus restrictions in place, Catholics have been unable to come together to celebrate Mass or receive the Eucharist during much of Lent.

And now, they face a Holy Week and Easter unlike any other they’ve experienced before.

“The purpose of Lent is to focus us, very deliberately, on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, and to focus on our need for a savior right now,” said Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar for the Omaha archdiocese.

“The coronavirus and the ensuing economic problems make us feel powerless, and they lead to (asking) the big questions,” he said. “All the more, (the crisis) reveals or makes clear my inability to control all aspects of my life.”

Father Hastings, along with Father Jeffrey Lorig, director of Pastoral Services for the archdiocese, and Sister Rosann Ocken, prioress for the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk, shared their insights about how the faithful can grow spiritually during this very challenging time.

So, how can Catholics conclude Lent and mark Holy Week and Easter in a meaningful way?

“I think this is really a time for creativity,” Father Hastings said.

Individuals or families can read the Mass readings at home, he said. They can wash each other’s feet on Holy Thursday, and read the Passion on Good Friday. “We have to be creative about our human connection,” he said.

And they are invited to join Archbishop George J. Lucas as he celebrates the Holy Week liturgies, livestreamed from St. Cecilia Cathedral on the archdiocese’s website, archomaha.org, and Facebook page, facebook.com/archomaha. For the full schedule, see page 1.

UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY

But this time of deprivation is also a unique opportunity, Father Hastings said.

“The biggest thing is just slowing down,” he said. “Most people I speak with are used to moving at breakneck speed and people feel overextended. They feel like their work and their private lives are indistinguishable. So this is like a resetting.

“It gives us the time to ask, how do we spend our time and what is of value to us? If people don’t take an increased amount of time in private to pray, they will have wasted it.”

He cited St. Ephraim the Syrian, who wrote, “Fish swim, birds fly, men pray,” noting that prayer should be the natural state of human beings.

“We can look at reality as an enemy or as a friend,” Father Hastings said. “Christ comes to meet us in good times and bad, and this time is no different.”

TRYING SOMETHING NEW

Father Lorig also sees this time of restrictions and spending more time at home as an opportunity for spiritual growth.

“Nobody canceled spiritual life – nobody canceled prayer,” he said.

Although people are unable to attend Mass or receive Communion, they are still welcome to come to their churches and pray before the tabernacle, as long as the 10-person limit is observed, he said.

“Adoration is kind of the next, best thing that’s available, whether (the Eucharist) is exposed or not,” he said. “This is your perfect opportunity to pop into church. “Do a ‘pop-in’. Give yourself permission to try a new routine.”

Father Lorig also encourages people to leave their comfort zones and try family and group prayer and Bible study.

“We’ve been saying for decades, millenia, that families should be praying at home,” he said. “But let’s be honest, not everybody is doing that.”

He suggests that families pray and study the Word of God at home, and take a leap of faith and contact the family down the street to ask what they’re doing to mark the Sabbath, and share what they’re finding helpful.

“The next thing you know, you have another family that feels equipped and it gives them permission to do something, and then, hopefully they call another family.”

“It’s called spiritual multiplication – a principle we’ve been promoting since we engaged in our archdiocesan vision,” Father Lorig said. “Faith grows through people – through relationships.”

Although many people are sequestered in their homes, this need not be a time of isolation.

Father Lorig said, “It can be as simple as calling a friend and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to go over the Sunday readings this weekend?’ Then maybe pray about them, and later call each other and talk about them.”

“I think people are just hungering to be with other people, so we’re really encouraging people to do that,” he said.

STEEPED IN PRAYER

For communities whose lives are already steeped in prayer such as the Benedictine Sisters, this time takes on new meaning.

Sister Rosann said their monastic community, whose members already pray four times each day for a total of two to three hours, has increased its prayer for people around the world who are vulnerable to the coronavirus.

They also are praying for their missionary sisters serving in Africa and elsewhere, their sisters in Italy, where about 40 sisters have fallen ill in two monasteries in Rome, and the poor around the world, she said.

Although her order’s monastic life has a strong focus on prayer, they also are taking concrete action as a community to help others through the pandemic.

To help fill the dire need for healthcare supplies, the sisters are busy cutting fabric to be sewn into protective masks for health care workers by a local group. As of late March, they had already cut 400 pieces of cloth for the effort.

Sister Rosann also found the onslaught of the pandemic in Lent noteworthy.

“It changes our attitude, doesn’t it? It changes our mindset when we realize, like I told the sisters, Jesus didn’t choose either,” she said. “We have a situation now where we are called to carry this particular cross at this time, and do it willingly.

“Our ultimate goal is our heavenly goal,” Sister Rosann said. “This is why we are here – to walk that journey that Christ has given us so we can join with him in heaven.

“This puts us face to face with the reality of our limited conditions and our total dependence on God.”

She cited a prayer she finds personally helpful – one written by St. Francis de Sales titled “Complete Trust in God.”

It begins: “Do not look forward to the trials and crosses of this life with dread and fear. Rather, look to them with full confidence that as they arise, God, to whom you belong, will deliver you from them.”

“Of course, we’re all concerned about our families and our need to trust in God,” Sister Rosann said. “I want to assure people that we are praying for all of them.”