Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lent Becomes More Concrete, More Meaningful For Us

Picture from Greenfield in Strasburg, late March 2019
The coronavirus pandemic "shutdown" will no doubt have many long term consequences (one of which, we hope, will be the control and eventual eradication of the infection). At the moment, in the midst of Lent, it touches all of us in one way or another. It's a particularly difficult "penance" for those who are sick and their caregivers. For many others, the economic implications are already a source of present suffering. Basic features of our way of life — that we have taken for granted for generations — may not be the same in the future. The past month has taught us that even tomorrow is unpredictable.

For people all over the world, the immediate impact has been a more or less vigorous quarantine, which involves various limitations and changes in the routines of daily life. We can live these days with a greater awareness of the gratuitousness of existence. This thing we call "our life" is inexplicable and utterly fragile if we consider it to be "closed-in-on-itself," as if it were constituted entirely within the limits of what we can materially measure and predict. Only insofar as we trust in God can we realize our inherent dignity and aspirations for life's enduring meaning.

This is a fitting source of meditation for the season. It is also a difficult one. For our family, the past three Lents have been full of experiences of abrupt change, illness, unpredictability, and the urgently felt need to depend on God.

Two years ago at this time, we were in the process of moving my Dad out near us after he collapsed physically and experienced the sudden and frightening onset of severe dementia. One year ago, we were keeping vigil at his bedside as he lay dying. He passed away on April 3, 2019. The first anniversary of his death is nearly at hand.

This Spring of 2020 is something else all together. I miss my Dad. That would have been true in any case, but in the present circumstances my memories are even more vivid and my heart goes out to people all over the world who are losing their beloved elders (old and/or infirm persons are the ones who are most susceptible to fatality from COVID-19). The lives of our elders are precious, beyond any quantitative calculus.

One of the hardest things about our sheltering-in-place is that we are in the Shenandoah Valley while Mom is still at the Assisted Living facility in Arlington (this remains a temporary transitional arrangement, but the plan for her and us to move to a bigger house out here and all live together is — needless to say — on hold for the present). Mom's facility is strictly closed to visitors, so we can’t see her right now, but thank God she’s well-cared-for and we can talk on the phone. They’re taking all necessary measures and precautions. Mom is very frail, but lucid and in good spirits — all things considered.

Of course, it's not possible to predict or guarantee anything. We can only do our best to be prudent and to follow the proposals of those who have authority to attend to the common good. Beyond that, however, we have hope; we carry on with confidence that the infinite wisdom and goodness of God holds us all in his love. In Jesus, the reality of God's love embraces every aspect of our humanity. In our sorrows we discover more and more that Jesus is the central reality of our lives.

It has been hard in recent years. But Lent and Easter have become more concrete, more meaningful to us as the vital ecclesial "memorial" of the events of salvation that correspond to the questions, the needs, and the suffering of our own specific lives.