Monday, March 23, 2020
As citizens concerned about “flattening the curve” of the impact of the Corona virus, especially for our most vulnerable populations, here in my Maryland Focolare community house we are hunkered down indoors, pretty much emerging only for essential groceries and a socially distanced walk in the neighborhood.
As we stayed home yesterday (Sunday), what to make of the cessation of public liturgies? I realize there has been some discussion in the religious press about whether this is a sign of solidarity or of cowardly capitulation. Personally, I see it as an unambiguous sign of wise, prudent, loving solidarity.
Perhaps because of our community’s international reach, the news of the tragic proportion of the crisis, especially in Italy and other countries, often arrives with a very individual human face: the illness or death of someone we know, or of their relatives, of a community leader in a specific city, and yesterday the news that in one Italian town a whole convent of 40 religious sisters is infected.
With this awareness, I have received the national and local public health recommendations with tremendous sense of gravity. As a Catholic who in normal times is a daily mass goer, this past week I have found great solace by participating in a recording of the daily mass celebrated by Pope Francis. I have been wonderfully nourished by his essential homilies, petitions that embrace the wide range of suffering on our planet, and the profound invitation to reverent “spiritual communion.”
When the Holy Father pauses at length before the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the liturgy, I of course realize that there is a tremendous difference between physical presence in church and my interaction with a recording on a screen.
But in these circumstances, I also sense that this enormous gap can be filled with love: the love that emerges from being united with our local Archbishop, who issued the guidelines to not publicly gather; love for those who are most vulnerable to the virus, especially those who are elderly or with fragile health; and of course a very concrete love for our medical workers, with the awareness of how reductions in public gatherings can contribute to keeping them from getting overwhelmed… and so on.
We are One Body, the Body of Christ – and we are experiencing that reality in a way that I never imagined we could.
So what is mine to do in these circumstances? First, I feel a very deep invitation to prayer. Struggling with insomnia as I worry about the people in my life who are vulnerable, I have been pasting tiny post-its with their names on a large picture of “Mary Untier of Knots,” and I feel that with this Our Lady herself is helping me to let her hold those fears in her loving hands. Second, I try to reach out (via email, zoom or phone) to at least two people per day (beyond those in my community house), to simply check in, listen, and participate in whatever they are going through, to again bring all of those concerns to prayer.
Finally, leaning on these two walking sticks, I have sensed over the past week that these practices nourish the insight that I need to be thoughtful in my approach to accompanying my students as we proceed with a virtual teaching platform. I intuit that they may need different things at different times: some need continuity in the projects that they have undertaken, others need flexibility, and others are in dire need of a listening ear. And perhaps most fruitful, these practices also help me to admit that I too feel vulnerable, and greatly in need of a sense of connection and community. Amy Uelmen