Amid a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus epidemic, Pope Francis soldiered on with his…
Editorial: Time to recapture our hunger for Christ
On the evening of March 27, 2020, as dusk was descending on Rome, Pope Francis stepped onto a covered podium as raindrops danced around him on the ancient cobblestones of a deserted St. Peter’s Square. The calmness in a place usually buzzing with activity set a somber mood befitting the occasion.
The COVID-19 virus was crossing borders at a rapid rate, and the number of cases and deaths were rising quickly. On that dark, still night in Rome, Italy was on lockdown, and much of the world, including the United States, was also taking extreme caution. During a Lent unlike any other in recent history, public Masses were canceled in an attempt to slow the spread of a virus that, at the time, we knew little about. And so we stayed inside our homes, sheltered from the storm swirling around us, fearing what would happen if we ventured out.
As he gave an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) via livestream from an empty St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis acknowledged the fear so many of us felt as he reflected on the passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus and the apostles are caught in a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee (cf. 4:35-41). Jesus is sleeping in the bow of the boat as the storm rages. Afraid, the apostles wake him, asking, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus calms the wind and the sea and asks his friends, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
Pope Francis challenged us all to contemplate the same question in light of the pandemic, saying: “Lord … you are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. … How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all.”
We would be wise to remember that St. Peter’s Square wasn’t alone in its emptiness at this same time last year. Also empty were pews in parishes across the country and around the world, as we were unable to gather and wave palm fronds to welcome Christ to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, nor witness our priests imitating Christ by washing the feet of our neighbors on Holy Thursday, nor adore the cross in honor of Christ’s suffering and death on Good Friday. Last year, we longed to celebrate these beautiful liturgies in person, and we yearned to partake of the Eucharist once more. Many promises were made expressing that once we were able to return safely to our parishes, we would appreciate the sacraments more fully and would no longer take them for granted.
While many Catholics, especially those who are most vulnerable, are still prudently waiting for the risk of infection to decline further before returning to Mass, for those who feel comfortable doing so, churches this year blessedly will be open again for the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum. As we look back on the anniversary of the pope’s historic message, and as we prepare to celebrate anew the holiest week of the Church year, what better time is there to take stock of our faith lives?
Do we still yearn for the Eucharist like we did when our access was limited, or has that hunger faded as we’ve gotten closer to the end of this pandemic? Are we still prioritizing quality time with our families, or are we again filling our calendars with things that are less important? Are we still checking in on our elderly neighbors and relatives, or have we once again left them isolated and alone?
It is not too late to recapture our hunger for Christ and our connection to those whom he calls us to love. We have only to accept Pope Francis’ challenge and navigate these stormy waters by steering our boats — our very lives — toward Christ.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young