If you have ever woken in the middle of the night to racing thoughts and unspecific anxiety, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just a member of the “four in the morning club.” This long period of quarantine feels like that dark night of the soul that grips us in the hours before light. Great Spiritual minds are wrestling with our present situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richard Rohr posed the question, “How can it be that God’s love is at work in the tragedy happening around us?” He brings us back in touch with St. John of the Cross, who emerged from his own dark night with this insight. “At the threshold of uncertainty what dwells beyond is not simply chaos. The darkness bears the Spirit of God, Who broods over the waters of death and has power to work a Resurrection.” Bishop Robert Barron said that God is doing things that we cannot see, measure, control, or fully understand. It is difficult to reflect on the moment while we are in the middle of a tunnel that has an undefined end. At some point in time we will be able to see the lessons buried deep within this forced quarantine, but for now we must glimpse the shimmer of light that is breaking through, illuminating what we want seen, but also what might have remained hidden.
The COVID-19 pandemic has lifted the rock that covered the unjust systems that were shrouded by our booming economy. Once protected from exposure to food insecurity, homelessness, vulnerable children, and compromised health, we now can feel its looming presence in our own communities. We lament the loss of those halcyon days when we could gather with family, kiss a grandchild, cheer for the home team, but for many social distancing is impossible within their overcrowded spaces.
When the schools shut down and sent our children home, our schools made a quick transition to online learning and students adjusted to keep up with their studies. Behind this shining example of adaptation and dedication is the hidden reality that for some students coming to school is an escape from an unsafe home life, or the chance to have a nutritional meal.
Workers adjusted to working from home, challenged though by the needs of their ever-present children. Technology has never been more of a necessity, and even the resistant troglodytes among us have had to adjust. Not every person can work from home, however. Some were furloughed, hoping that their jobs will still be there when this is behind us. The government stepped up and money began to fill the gaps to keep workers paid for a couple of months, but others were simply let go, with few options for re-employment.
The light that shines in our darkness has revealed a new breed of heroes, none of whom bounce a ball or swing a stick —nurses, doctors, first-responders, cleaning crews, grocery store and restaurant workers — these are the people that get our standing ovations these days. Teachers have become innovators, throwing a lifeline to parents struggling to keep their children engaged.
Throughout this crisis our Church has been steadfast in its mission. Though we can no longer gather physically to worship, the Corporal Works of Mercy are safe in the hands of the many parishioners who risk their health to feed the hungry in parish soup kitchens and fill empty kitchens from their food pantries. Our nursing home workers are heroically fighting against the spread of the virus, and have become substitute family for our oldest and most infirm loved ones. Our shelters are still receiving homeless guests off the street, never knowing if someone is bringing the virus in with them. We can help fill the food pantries and soup kitchens. We can donate games and activities to our shelters. We can call Catholic Social Services and ask where the greatest needs is. We can write letters of encouragement to our new heroes on the front line. We can call a neighbor who lives alone and check on their well-being. Yes, we have to “attend” Mass virtually, and our Eucharist is only Spiritual, but we never have stopped being Church to the world.
St. John of the Cross taught us that we cannot stop night for it teaches us that we are not always in charge of our destiny. Historians tell us that the Greatest Generation was forged by economic depression and World War. That generation was not born great, but became that way to survive. We will never be the same after this, but someday another generation will look back and judge our actions. We are capable of emerging from this experience as something new, adaptable and innovative. We will find new ways to engage with the world. May the God Who heals in darkness create for us our own resurrection.
Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation.