I have just been inspired by a Jesuit friend whom I invited to give a lecture on Ignatian spirituality. In summary he says Jesuit spirituality is finding God in all things. He makes a joke that there is a Jesuit priest who prayed with the newspapers.
These are extra ordinary times says the president of the nation and the experience of the history of the church has taught us that the faith of people grows even more in times of persecution and trouble. Note well, these are troubled times. Exodus opens with such a statement: “yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread…” The African bible captions this portion of the passage (Ex. 1: 8-14) as “oppression cannot destroy life”.
Yesterday the Pope opened his window as usual but this time there was no audience. He knew no one would be there, and yet he opened his window and looked out to see what God has to say to his people. We have been asked not to congregate because of the danger of spreading the virus as it had happened in some countries. We must not argue as to its relevance or not. That is not what is important: what is important is for us to recognize God in this situation and to be opened to God.
In Catholic spirituality, we believe both in personal prayer and public prayer: each nourishes the other and they are the two pillars of prayer. These are times to engage in both but in unique ways. The times we are living really does not affect private prayer but seem to affect public prayer. Yet public prayer can be achieved in many ways:
The church teaches that the first and basic church is the domestic church. In fact, almost all churches started at homes and gradually grew to bigger communities. In these times, we are asked to return to the domestic church concept; to strengthen family prayer and spirituality and be a church in a unique way.
We can have “public prayer” that unites us while we continue to respect the required distances. We may be distanced physically but we can be closer than ever spiritually. This is the time to respect Catholic prayer times: at 6am, 12 noon and 6pm let’s unite in the Angelus.
On Fridays at 6.30pm or 7pm depending on the time your church begins the stations of the cross, join the community of believers in your various homes. We may not congregate in a physical space, but we would congregate before the presence of God who is everywhere.
We must recall that the church building is the physical symbol of the body of Christ and yet Paul teaches us that we are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). The church (as people) always exists before the church building is constructed; closing a church building is not closing the church. And in our case churches have not been closed; large gatherings are what we are asked to avoid. Our churches remain opened but most importantly our faith must grow because if it does not, our selfish desires would grow and we would lose our humanity because of a virus.
The church has always recognized the effect of a sacrament (grace) in the life of a person who deeply desires the sacrament even though the person may not have access to the sacrament. We could think of the church’s teaching on baptism: baptism by blood and baptism by desire affirmed as granting the grace of baptism where there isn’t the possibility of reception (cf. Cf. Canon 849).
In the sacrament of penance, we say that a person who has no possibility of confessing his sins before going for mass can receive communion under the following conditions: that he makes an act of perfect contrition with the resolve to go for confession when there is the possibility (a desire for the sacrament). The spirit of these two examples can be traced by the fact that in scripture, the grace of God has even preceded (though not cancelled the importance) the sacrament (cf. Acts 10:44-47: they received the Holy Spirit even before baptism).
All these are to assure Catholics who desire Jesus in the Eucharist that when you desire Him in extraordinary circumstances like these, you should be guaranteed of His presence. In any case we have the possibility of privately visiting Him at the various Eucharistic adoration chapels in order to ask Him to satisfy our thirst for Him.
In ordinary times we use ordinary means to seek God but in extraordinary times we use all means to seek the Lord; social media, live streaming of masses and various devotions.
Remember the words of our Saviour: “a time is coming and has now come when true believers shall worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).