Well, lovely readers, this is not how we expected our semester to go. I am sad, frustrated, confused, angry, disappointed, uncertain. This is my last semester, and so much was left unfinished. I’m sure that even those of you who are not seniors feel this way too. Teachers and faculty as well, we are all sad beyond words at the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic. To all of you reading now: I’m sorry you’re going through this.
Let me tell you, this has been the longest Lent of my life. My personal Lent began in mid-February with silent treatment from my roommate. That culminated in a conflict with her boyfriend that was unofficially hushed up. Now, Lent is ending in silent treatment from the Church, which has closed its doors in my home diocese during this most holy week of our liturgical year.
I can’t take the silence.
I love words. I kid you not, I wrote my entire double-major thesis on words, to which my friends can begrudgingly attest. And boy are words powerful. Words can bless and curse, create and destroy. They are intrinsic to our humanity because we were created by the Word, so all of our “little” words partake in the capital-W Word, Jesus.
The point is: words matter. They matter because Jesus is the Word and we are “sub-creators,” which is a term J.R.R. Tolkien coined to describe how we make from what God made ex nihilo. We can use our words to sub-create, to bring glory to God with every utterance – or we can not. Our generation throws around profanities like they are pre-coronavirus toilet paper. We toss them carelessly across metaphorical trees because we do not know how much words are worth.
Now, we are in a time of silence. This might be the first time we have experienced a crisis this big, but it is not the first time the Church has. I don’t know how the Church responded in the past, but I know we serve a faithful God who remembers his covenant with us forever. He promised us that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church headed by Peter.
That’s hard to remember when American bishops have cancelled Mass all across the country.
As for me, I’m in the Atlanta Archdiocese, and my bishop just closed all the churches. It is Holy Week, and we can’t even go to a church building to pray anymore. Holy Week, when we prepare for the greatest sacrifice in the history of the universe. Our whole faith is centered around this sacrifice. Countless martyrs have given their lives because of it. We, the Church, profess that Jesus Christ is worth dying for. Yet we are weak. We are afraid. And the devil knows it.
That same Satan who has tempted humanity throughout all of history is tempting us now. He is tempting us to sacrifice our Jesus on the altar of health. Fear is from him, and he is spreading panic this Lent so that even our churches close and our sacraments are taken away. Should we be surprised that this is all coming to a head at Holy Week? Better question: are we going to let the devil win this time?
Now please don’t misunderstand. Coronavirus is a great evil and must not be taken lightly. We should be very careful and only go out for necessities right now. We must be careful, not crazy. As surely all the saints will attest, the Eucharist is a necessity above all others. When many bishops across the country were cancelling Masses, Bishop Gregory John Mansour, in his March 12 letter, instead wrote this: “Safety and the sacred quality of Liturgy are both important, and we can do both.”
So how did Jesus respond to the devil’s temptations after his own 40 days in the desert? I can tell you what he did not do: he did not take the attacks in silence. He responded with words. Specifically, he responded with holy words because he responded by quoting Scripture.
I’m not saying that you should go around just quoting Scripture to the people who are making decisions that are limiting our sacraments. But if we believe what we say we believe, we cannot be silent. God is raising up a bunch of saints right now, and I want to be one of them.
We must unite ourselves to the Word and speak accordingly. We must do as Matthew 10:19-20 exhorts us to do and allow the Holy Spirit to speak through us. We must respect the authority of Church leaders while still speaking up and telling the Church and the world that we, weak and fearful as we are, will not let our Jesus be taken away from us. And when we are hushed, we must use our glorious sub-creative powers to come up with other ideas, like praying outside of the locked churches and helping priests set up confessions where being 6-feet apart is actually practical.
St. Catherine of Siena, who united herself to her beloved Word and spoke boldly and faithfully, even to the pope when he was making bad choices, said, “We’ve had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues – I see the world is rotten because of silence.”
For the love of the Word, let us not be silent. Let us pray to God for an end to this pandemic and for access to the sacraments. And then let’s respectfully tell this to our bishops. If nothing else, history will have a record of our voices speaking up for our Lord, and our many prayers will be heard in heaven.
I like to start Troubadour meetings with a prayer. Now I’ll end my last editorial with one.
Lord, you are ever faithful. You always remember your covenant. Thank you for the holy hidden priests we trust are out there and for all the saints you are calling. Please especially bless the members of this university, and help us to lovingly, willingly unite ourselves to your cross. And for the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!