Many have commented that no one could have foreseen on Ash Wednesday what this Lent was going to bring. We are “giving up” much more than we ever could have imagined and what we originally thought would be a sufficient practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (charity). How feeble those things seem now.

In these first few days of “social distancing” and the absence of public Mass, I’ve had many a thought run through my mind as to what the meaning of all this is. The first thing that came to my mind was a title of a book— the autobiography of Dorothy Day— called The Long Loneliness. Already, isn’t the absence of coming to Church and receiving the Eucharist causing a long, spiritual loneliness?

This led me to another reverse analogy. On the First Sunday of Lent we talked about Jesus’ temptations. One of those was to turn stones into bread. Again, with the absence of the Eucharist, I was tempted to think we have turned bread (the Eucharist) into stones! It feels that way as a priest, not being able to distribute Holy Communion. But in my heart of hearts I know that social distancing and this loneliness of spiritual isolation and going without the Eucharist is a necessary thing at this moment. Won’t it be great when once again we are able to gather for the heavenly banquet around the table of the Lord!?

Another thought that came to me is contained in the title to this letter: “The long Good Friday.” Good Friday is the one day of the Church year when no Mass, public or private, is allowed. The day is centered on Jesus’ passion and death on the Cross. We are used to trying to quickly pass over Good Friday on our way from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. We don’t like the eerie silence and thinking about the death of Jesus on the Cross as much as we like participating and enjoying the miracles, healings and triumphs of Jesus. Good Friday has come early this year and will be staying with us for a while. As the Spirit did with Jesus, the Spirit has led us into the desert where the Spirit will speak to our hearts. Everything you are being asked to do now, everything you are not able to do now, everything you fear now is a desert experience of participating in Jesus’ temptations in the desert, his agony in the Garden, his scouring at the pillar, his humiliation of the Way of the Cross and his death on Calvary. And there’s no getting away from it. Thus, the long Good Friday.

So whatever our original plans for prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we’ve been given a new plan. Whatever that plan means for each one of us, I think, we have to go back to last Sunday’s responsorial psalm: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

But in the end we will be well. In the Lenten meditation book, ‘Daybreaks’ (Liguori Publications) by Ronald Rolheiser for the Third Monday of Lent he writes in the concluding paragraph: “God cannot be deciphered, circumscribed, or captured in human thought; but from what can be deciphered, we’re in good, safe hands. We can sleep well at night. God has our back. In the end, both for humanity as a whole and for our own individual lives. As Julian of NorwIch (a spiritual mystic) prayed: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Do not be afraid.

Fr. Gary Ziuraitis, C.Ss.R.
Pastor, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church
Kansas City, MO