Despite contradictions, we are still spiritually united

Easter Vigil 2020, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Like the Scripture proclaimed on Palm Sunday, like Christ himself, who is a “sign of contradiction,” our Lent has been a story of contradictions. At the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass we heard the din of hosannas, but by the end of the Gospel we heard the account of the Son of God’s brutal death.

Consider where we were on Ash Wednesday. We were hopeful as we entered into Lent — hopeful that we would be spiritually renewed and grow closer to Christ through the multiple opportunities our parishes were going to provide.

And then came COVID-19, and Lent became more penitential and more sacrificial than we could have ever anticipated. The season of hope, in which we as a Catholic community would journey to Calvary in anticipation of Risen Life, became days and weeks of concern about the spread of the virus, self-quarantines, school and business closures, announcements about the increasing numbers of those affected by the illness and the death of some.

The contradictions of Palm Sunday, i.e., jubilee and suffering, exemplify the contradictions we are experiencing in our daily lives. One day analysists are using superlatives to tout great historic gains in the stock market; the next day the same people are bemoaning sell-offs, lack of confidence and questioning if it will rebound.

One contradiction that is evident this Holy Week is how we will commemorate the most important events of our salvation story. We have always celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper as a community, partaking in the foot washing and taking time for adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

On Good Friday, we would gather as a community to celebrate our Lord’s Passion, to pray the Universal Prayer of the Church and to venerate the cross.

The Easter Vigil is one of the greatest celebrations in our Church year. The lighting of the Easter fire and the Paschal candle, proclaiming multiple Scripture readings, welcoming new members into our Church and the return of the Alleluias vividly remind our community that Christ is risen.

The contradiction to community has been defined and dictated by terms that will forever be part of our lexicon — self-isolation and social distancing. These practices for promoting physical health are not how we usually celebrate, which is always side-by-side and focused on this journey of our redemption.

Out of respect for human life we follow directives not to gather in large groups. Thanks to technology, we can watch these celebrations that are livestreamed in many of our parishes and from our Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. (See schedule accompanying this column.)

As we pray this week, COVID-19 and its effects will be in our hearts. The virus has been a humbling experience for us. It has required us to live differently and to relate to each other in ways in which we might not be accustomed.

While we are not physically together as a community, remember that we are spiritually united as members of the Body of Christ by our baptism and our prayer. We accept with humility that the celebration of Holy Week we anticipated when Lent began is not going to happen this year as it has in the past.

Despite the contradictions brought on by COVID-19, we can reconcile them through spiritual communion in our hearts and in prayer. We will continue to do what we set out to do since Ash Wednesday: Grow closer to God through his Son and inspired by his Holy Spirit. May that be our common mission throughout Holy Week and the Easter season in communion with Christ and with one another.

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