Isolated Catholics miss the Church, sacraments, and each other as we endure the frightening depths of the novel coronavirus pandemic – yet, desperate times have forced us to rediscover our faith.
Two local priests are leading this rediscovery through their presence on social media. Through livestreaming Mass and offering inspirations, they are offering light in dark times.
“We took many things for granted, and we are spiritually starving – but we now realize how much we value these God-given gifts,” Father Angelos Sebastian says, summing up some of the hundreds of messages he receives from parishioners as pastor of St. Kilian Church in Mission Viejo.
“In the beginning, people were distraught about Mass being canceled, but it’s been going on [via livestreaming] at millions of altars throughout the world – and we are connected,” agrees Father Scott Borgman, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Orange Office of Canonical Services.
“If we are physically apart, our spiritual connections are even more extraordinarily important,” Fr. Borgman continues. “Our hearts are aflame with love for God. And God says ‘I love you’ in the Mass.”
Both Fr. Sebastian and Fr. Borgman celebrate daily livestreamed Masses, in addition to offering frequent messages of faith and hope on social media. Catholics in Orange County and beyond are finding comfort and inspiration in their words.
“Prayer, the Mass, and spiritual exercises are important all the time,” says Fr. Sebastian, “but especially these days they bring us peace. People are worried and scared. The best remedy for fear is coming in touch with the divine.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect time for us to read about the lives of the saints, to spend quiet time listening to God, and praying the rosary regularly, Fr. Borgman says. “This is the time to become holy,” he notes. “There is no better crisis than that which turns us back to the father.”
Surprisingly, both men have discovered that their messages are being taken to heart by listeners of all ages and faiths.
Amid the hundreds of emails he receives, Fr. Sebastian says, are some from teenagers who say they are grateful for the time their parents are spending with them during the pandemic. “They tell me that, finally, we are praying and reading the Bible together as a family,” he says. “These are blessings that we can’t ignore. We must focus on what we have and be less worried about what we don’t have.”
Fr. Borgman, who grew up in an evangelical Christian family and spent years as a missionary in Africa, became Catholic as a young adult. He says Catholics are fortunate to have a long, rich tradition that helps us understand the power of redemptive suffering – something we are experiencing today – and that offers us a wealth of opportunity to connect with the divine.
In addition to scripture, Catholics have Our Lady, the Eucharist, confession and the sacraments, the saints, and the Church interpretation of God’s word, Fr. Borgman explains.
“Suffering is not meaningless,” he adds. “We have the testimonies of the saints that our faith is worth dying for. The Holy Spirit fills every corner he can. Every death of a loved one, every anxiety, if they are joined to Christ contribute to a love with open franchise, a love the Catholic Church gives us to become saints ourselves.”
Fr. Sebastian says people often ask him how to pray. “Open your heart,” he advises, “and that’s how you enter into relationship with God.” In some ways, isolation is deepening our spiritual lives, he adds. “If you are surrounded by noise all the time you do not hear the voice from inside, let alone God’s voice.
“In silence, you know who you are, and you know who God is,” he continues. “I’m amazed that a lot of people are sharing that they now realize they can listen to the birds and the wind – it was always there. God speaks to us through nature – listen to the sound of a bird and you can appreciate God’s beauty. You can hear the voice of God.”
Prayer can begin simply, he says. “Talk to God the way you talk to
your Dad, because we are all God’s children,” he says. “Don’t worry about complicated prayers. Talk to God as a good friend who really cares about you.”
We must ask ourselves how we want to live once we emerge from our isolation, Fr. Borgman observes. “The way you answer determines God’s ability to work inside us. If we transform our busy, harried existence into an intentional, disciplined conduit for the Father, we will fall more in love with Him.”
God is “completely bananas for us,” he adds. “When we spend less time on social media and more quiet time with God, we fall in love with the Eucharist body and soul and know the divinity of Christ.”