Winter’s persistent gloom – even as brief and mild as Southern California’s chilly season is – makes the coronavirus pandemic seem unending and insurmountable.
Maintaining a positive frame of mind feels impossible. We face continued health, economic, family, and emotional challenges, all made more difficult as we isolate, which itself can lead to depression, substance abuse, and even suicidal thoughts.
Still, notes the Most Reverend Timothy Freyer, we are never alone.
“Jesus is always with us,” says Bishop Freyer, auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Orange, “even if we do not see Him or feel His presence.”
JESUS WALKS WITH US IN DARKNESS
In facing the troubles wrought by COVID-19, Bishop Freyer encourages us to recall bad times in our lives and remember that we made it successfully through those challenges with prayer, the help of friends, and our willingness to keep going. “Just as God helped you through those difficult times, He will help you through the present time.”
As an example, he offers the story of the disciples walking to Emmaus after the crucifixion. “Jesus walked and talked with them, but they did not recognize Him for hours,” he notes. “Finally, as they sat down to eat and Jesus broke the bread (an early Church term for the Mass), their eyes were open, and they saw that Jesus had been with them all along.”
For us, Bishop Freyer says, developing that openness to God means we must spend time in prayer, even if we don’t notice anything different.
“Grace will be given to us whether we notice it or not,” he explains. “Remember, Christ has already won the victory; this suffering is only temporary. We sometimes have to consciously remind ourselves that this present state is not going to last forever.”
CULTIVATING THE THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES
Pope Francis recently criticized Americans for our emphasis on practicality. “Americans are extremely industrious, good at getting things done,” says the Very Reverend Scott Borgman, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Orange. “But Americans can miss the most important virtues of faith, hope, and love – the theological virtues.
“Learning how to see the pandemic properly is to realize we have hope in something beyond this life,” Fr. Borgman continues. “Getting coronavirus is not the end of the story, even if it leads to death.”
He reminds us that Solomon asked for wisdom, or a heart that hears God. To live hopefully, then, is to cultivate a heart that listens.
“We then realize that the world is falling down around us, but God has a plan,” Fr. Borgman says. “We look to God for comfort, not to Dr. [Anthony S.] Fauci [chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] or to the vaccine. We cultivate hope by looking to the saints, living a life of prayer, and developing our relationship with the divine.”
SHARING EASES OUR BURDENS
Being open about our feelings with trusted family members, friends, and spiritual advisors can lessen our fears and inspire hopefulness, says Bishop Freyer.
“When we talk about what we are going through, the fear lessens and we begin to feel hope,” he says. “We must look for the blessings in our lives each day. When we spend time in prayer, and in thinking about what is good in our life, we become grateful, which leads to hope and joy.”
Catholics often forget to acknowledge perhaps their closest friends and allies, their guardian angels, adds Fr. Borgman. “Most people’s guardian angels are just collecting dust,” he says. “We’ve got to befriend and acknowledge them. With their help, we can cultivate regular moments of encounter with the Lord.”
EMBRACING REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING
The coronavirus pandemic is a time to focus on the cross as a display of redemptive suffering, purification, and meeting God within the difficulties of life, he says. “If indeed God rewards us with the cross, there’s something to be gleaned from every suffering.”
While the idea of the crucifixion can be misinterpreted, he adds, “the world is continuously being redeemed by God, and we must participate in that redemption through bearing the crosses in our life.
“This is a great cause for hope in our lives,” Fr. Borgman says. “Our sacrifices can bring extraordinary fruit.”
DEVELOPING A POSITIVE LIFE PLAN
Now that we are back to attending Mass inside our parish churches (albeit with limited capacity), we encounter Christ together. Attending daily Mass, making an annual retreat, praying the Rosary, meditating in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, going to confession regularly, reading spiritual books, and studying the lives of the saints are positive ways to help us create and nurture solid spiritual lives.
“We know that affliction produces endurance,” observes Bishop Freyer. “Endurance and proven character does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”