It feels like we were just here, that it’s not time yet for the self-reflection and rededication of these upcoming forty days. Everything came and went so quickly this year. It was hard to be excited for the seasons, to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection in a virtual Mass and then his birth in socially distant pews. It doesn’t feel like it happened if the family didn’t crowd around the table, or if I didn’t watch a video tutorial on how to fold a palm cross. We tried our best. I made holiday meals for two, video conferencing with the rest of the family while we ate. I put on a fancy dress for Christmas dinner, though a much smaller dinner than we’re used to. Admittedly, I read fewer books—I didn’t often have the mental capacity to read—and didn’t update this blog as often as I would’ve liked. But this year was strange for all of us. I don’t think many of us had the mental capacity for much of anything.
I know that I need Lent this year. I use it as a chance to recharge and put my priorities in order. Ascension Press has a “What should I do for Lent?” quiz, and I’m not surprised that my result was “Add a devotion!” That always made more sense to me than giving something up. (This year I learned that some people give up hot showers. Listen, I have my limits.) In a sense, it’s “giving up” my wasted time. Most days after dinner, I plop on the couch and play games until it’s time to go to bed because I’m too drained to do anything else. It’s fine to relax, but not for three hours. I have a daily examen journal that I’ll start using again. I’ll keep my rosary handy, and maybe finally memorize the Hail Holy Queen prayer. There’s plenty to do, and it’s only my own laziness that keeps me from doing it.
This is a season to get back on track. The first and easiest for me is to plan my reading, and I have a couple books lined up already:
Love & Responsibility, Pope St. John Paul II
Preparing for Easter, C.S. Lewis
EWTN’s free reflection ebook, with accompanying weekly emails!
Lent is always the same theme for me—be silent, listen to God, refocus. I always think this is the year things will change, that I’ll finally achieve that higher spiritual plane and bask in the light of God’s glory. That’s not going to happen, as long as I’m here on Earth. It’s a worthy goal, and I feel a bit of that light when I do let God speak. But things will always get muddy again; I’ll get distracted, or lose focus, or simply act like a human being. That’s why this time of refocus is good. Maybe I’m finally coming out of “quarantine.” I remember the last time I attended Mass before the shutdown, when they emptied the holy water fonts. Though it was only March, it felt like Good Friday began at that moment. Those months were like desert wandering that I never really emerged from, even after Easter. Maybe now, almost a year later, I finally am.
Last time I attended Mass in person, nearly a month ago, my hand froze over the empty holy water font. It took a moment to realize it had been drained to prevent the spread of a virus that was just starting to hit the area. But I crossed myself with dry fingers and went to my usual pew, as if everything were normal.
That empty font was as unsettling as it is on Good Friday, when no one quite knows what to do without it. As a result, these last few weeks have felt like one long fast. Now that Good Friday is actually upon us, there’s an odd sense of relief. Tomorrow, we’ll still be Livestreaming Mass. We’ll still be wearing masks and gloves, six feet away from our neighbors. But Jesus will be alive.
During one virtual visio divina, we learned the etymology of the word quarantine: it derives from the Latin quadraginta, which means “forty.” In fact, its first dictionary definition is “a period of 40 days.” We have truly mimicked Jesus’s retreat into the desert. It’s not quite the same—with all the comforts of modern living, and food in the fridge—but the emotional and mental strain has been a challenge unto itself.
This Holy Week isn’t what I had planned. I’d taken vacation time this week, scheduling a two-day silent retreat to start it off. I’d planned a day of hiking (weather permitting), and perhaps a visit to the spa (a little self-indulgence). I was to clear my mind of the world’s worries and refocus on Jesus. Bonus that this week is also my two-year Catholic anniversary!
None of that happened. I even ended up working through Thursday, since I’d be be home anyway. But despite our isolation, we’ve done more to connect with one another—there are Livestreams and virtual prayer; religious companies are offering free materials; homes have branches in their windows rather than the customary palms. We’re feeling the absence of a church community, and definitely the absence of the Eucharist. But as the Spiritual Communion prayer states, “Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.” There’s certainly no shortage of heart right now.
I’ll be sad to miss the glory of the Easter Vigil (again—let’s not forget what happened last year). I’ll be virtually seeing my family rather than crowding us all into one house. But it’s still a celebration, because it’s still Easter. And like Jesus’s temptation in the desert, this quarantine, too, will one day be over.
The only Mass I could attend today is the 6:45 a.m., because Wednesdays are my busiest days. So I’m awake an hour earlier than usual, half-asleep as I brush my teeth. Eric wanted to attend Mass, too, though I don’t understand why he didn’t back out when I told him the time. Regardless, I’m ready early and have some time before he picks me up.
Earlier in the week, I created a little reading corner in my home office. It’s not much—a basket beside my chair, packed with books, journals, and a rosary; there’s a blanket, too, in the unlikely event that room is cold (I have no control over the radiator). So I did some reading. The sun hasn’t risen yet, though I’m not sure it will today. It’s been dreary lately, and it smells like rain. But the quiet is nice.
Eric is half-asleep in the pew beside me. We arrived early, because I’d expected the first Mass to be the most crowded. I often see ashy foreheads on my morning commute, so I assumed all those commuters came now. But we were of the first people to arrive, before even the organist. There aren’t as many people as I expected, so maybe the busiest service is actually the 8:00.
There are some Sundays that I attend Mass before breakfast, and I’m starving. But each time, when I receive the Host, the hunger subsides a little. I doubt it’s because it has any nutritional value. Today, as I prayed following the Eucharist, I understood that it is sustaining. I haven’t eaten breakfast, but I’m not hungry. Actually, I feel pretty okay.
Now, I’m marked as a sinner and ready to start my 40 days of penance.
I forget about the ashes until I see my reflection. I haven’t seen anyone marked at work yet to commiserate with. For a second I was going to rummage through my desk for a snack, until I remembered I’m fasting.
My co-worker sent me the Catholic Guide to Ashes, a meme I’ve seen several times but it always makes me giggle (this year, I’m the Rorschach). It’s funny how people attend services in droves today to get a smudge of dirt on their heads, some of whom don’t bother with Mass the rest of the year. This is pious, I guess. But I’m not very outward with my beliefs. For me, walking around with the ashes feels like carrying a “Repent and Believe” sign through Times Square. For some, Ash Wednesday is a chance to show everyone how faithful they are. For me, it forces me to be both brave and humble. I don’t feel either right now, but maybe that’s the point.
I have a headache, so I’m on my third cup of herbal tea today.
I didn’t have a lot of time for a lunch break, but found an empty spot in the office to read a few minutes. I recently started Fr. James Martin’s Jesus, where he journeys to Israel to retrace His steps. It makes me want to go back. One day I will.
I just stared at my fingernails, wondering where the black could’ve come from. Then I remembered the itch on my forehead. Now, I’m more “The Blob.”
I’m not starving, but I am greatly looking forward to dinner. (We’ll see if that tofu I made last night is any good.)
I was a little loopy walking to the train after work, but I’ve made it home. I’m not sure if this tofu is actually good, or if my body is just excited to absorb its energy.
Fasting is a deceptively simple thing, and maybe one day I’ll stop being nervous going into it. My body is temperamental. Most days, I need to eat every 3–4 hours or I’ll get lightheaded. But today, I was fine. Maybe I actually stayed in-tune with God. Maybe I actually drew on His strength, rather than depend on the comparative lack of mine. Right now, I’m too grateful for this meal to try understanding it. So even though I wasn’t doubled over in hunger like I usually am, this is a good start to the Lenten season. Maybe this year, I’m not supposed to learn how to trust Him—we all know I can do that already, even if I sometimes forget how. Maybe He’s trying to teach me something else.
I have 40 days to figure that out. But for now, I’m really going to enjoy this tofu and veggies.