It’s no secret 2020 has been a less than perfect year. You might have had great expectations. New year equals a new start—new opportunities to kick bad habits. But soon you realized 2020 was not going to be a fairy tale. World basketball phenom Kobe Bryant died in January. Following this sudden tragedy was the COVID19 pandemic (with no end seemingly in sight). Race riots emerged afterward. Lockdowns. Quarantines. Masks. Masks. And more masks. The buzzwords of the year.
What the h***’s going on?! Seriously, why all this suffering? This isn’t the way life is meant to be. No sports or music concerts or church services. Those things stabilize us and give meaning to the topsy-turvies of life. You want things to go back to being normal (I want the craziness to stop—I can’t play real-life Jumanji anymore).
Did normalcy ever exist?
Life has never been normal. What exactly is normal? The dictionary defines ‘normal’ as conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. 2020 was unexpected! Who expected a microscopic virus to cripple the world economy and upturn people’s lives in unimaginable ways?
In April, I contracted the COVID19 virus. It was a horrendous experience. A high fever persisted for almost two weeks straight. It zapped me of energy, taste, smell, and gave me intense full body aches. This virus would have killed me had it not been due to the persistent prayers of my family and friends along with my wife making me drink water every hour and use a rescue inhaler for the first time in my life. In the beginning, I was angry with God for allowing me to get infected. I took every single precaution: washed my hands twice an hour, socially distanced, and consumed Vitamin C daily.
But in the heart of my suffering I recalled how God saved me from an intense depression and loss in 2014—losing an unborn child to miscarriage. Hindsight is 2020 (no pun intended). I experienced a lack of consolation in prayer. At first, I thought it was due to me not having enough faith. But learning more about the prayer life as detailed by Saint John of the Cross, I found out I was going through a Dark Night of the Soul. It is through that lens I view the trials the Church (and world) face in 2020.
Seeds of Faith Grow in the Soil of Suffering
Ever since I endured the suffering of having to bury unborn children, Jesus’ words in John 12:24 has become easier to understand. Christ said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Suffering is a means to kill the self (selfish desires and tendency towards sin). My suffering in 2014 caused me to be buried in a spiritual darkness. Out of the shroud of suffering I emerged renewed and more trusting in God’s Providence.
The greatest of saints grew into faithful witness for the Gospel through being buried in a soil of suffering. Saint John Paul II lived in Poland during Nazi and Communist occupation. He lost all of his immediate family members before his 22nd birthday. Such loss could have easily driven Karol Wojtyła into callousness and resentment. He looked to the Cross as a way to survive his unimaginable suffering.
10,000 Difficulties Don’t Equal a Single Doubt
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman famously wrote, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. (unequal).” The English cardinal’s words seem appropriate for Catholics to hear in 2020. How many times do you read on Catholic social media posts about people not trusting in God because of COVID19 precautionary measure? I was once accused of worshipping a “mask deity” because of my stance on wearing a facemask to public masses.
The current pandemic has presented too many difficulties to count for the Catholic. Earlier this year, the United States Catholic bishops decided to suspend all public Masses and the weekly obligation to attend. This led to an outpouring of confusion, concern, and frustration on the part of the laity. People began to blame the bishop and label them cowards for giving into the secular stance on the coronavirus situation.
Soon after Catholic social media lit up into tribalistic squabbles. Catholics began calling out their spiritual brother and sister’s faith into question. But a difficulty doesn’t equate to a doubt. Last time I checked, I don’t possess the ability to read a person’s heart and I am fairly confident most other Catholics lack that ability too. Instead of questioning a person’s faith would it not be more prudent and effective to ask the Holy Spirit for unity, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and generosity in online discussions?
All Things Work for the Good
Saint Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.” In pop culture, the NBC drama Manifest (an amazing show about passengers on a plane who mysteriously reappears five years after disappearing) has increased the popularity of this verse. Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite Bible quotes. It has increased in relevance since enduring my Dark Night of the Soul in 2014.
All things work for the good even when you’re in a spiritual dark night.
Fear over the unknown may be the most common fear (even more widespread than fear of death). So much misinformation exists on the COVID19 pandemic. Was the lockdown needed or not? Was the virus naturally occurring or lab-generated? Are facemasks effective or not? Will the pandemic miraculously end the day after the election because a particular political party created the virus? (I don’t subscribe to any conspiracy theory but simply wanted to detail out the variance in thought about COVID19).
All things work for the good for those who love God.
God uses bad things and evil things for good. God is so good that even evil is transformed as a means to be drawn in closer to Him. For example my wife and I lost children to miscarriage. Out of that horror we grew in faith.
Whoever wins the United States election or whatever craziness left for the rest of 2020 only matters in the short-term. In the long-term (or more precisely in the perspective of eternity), all things work for the good of those who love God.
How Can Catholics Finish out 2020
Fear, animosity, blame-gaming, and judging others’ hearts has been the norm of social media. I believe the world is in a ‘Dark Night’. Suffering is not something to shy away from but should be viewed as an offering to God in prayer. It’s okay to have difficulties with how this year is going.
Don’t be afraid to completely break down in tears and shoot salvos of laments to the Holy Trinity. Ten thousand, ten million or ten billion difficulties don’t equal a doubt in God’s Providence. And etch this verse in your heart, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
The United States of America is united only by name. Today, unity is more rare than a unicorn. Even worse the Catholic Church in America has exposed Her fractured body. The COVID19 pandemic magnified problems already existing in the Church. Frankly, I am exhausted of seeing the infighting of Catholics on social media. It’s a great sign of contradiction for the world when the Church’s member fight about political, legal, or liturgical differences (all minor compared to theological unity).
Jesus prayed for unity in John 17:20-21, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” This is the approach we need to take as Catholics. Pray without ceasing for unity. Here’s a list of other things Catholics can start doing immediately to help bring the Church together.
Religion and politics is a bloody and violent marriage. History proves this. Catholics need to quit attaching labels to themselves. There is neither conservative or liberal Catholic. To label in this case would be to limit truth. It implicitly puts politics above the faith.
Choose Kindness over Callousness
“But [insert opposite party] acted rude and belligerent. So our side needs to fight back!” How many times have you read something similar on Facebook or Twitter 🤦♂️? Likely more times than you seen the word Jumanji . 😊
Kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. This virtue is not a sign of weakness. It’s an indication your willingness to care about others over your pride.
In Why You Should Develop Empathy in 2020 I wrote, “Empathy has become a primary focus for life in the 21st century.” If you evaluated 2020 by the amount of empathy being displayed, then it would be safe to claim we are in a new Dark Ages. Catholic social media threads largely lack empathy.
Listen to Darth Vader. He did end up on the Light Side!
When a person explains their economic, mental, or physical struggles during the pandemic it is good to place yourself in another person’s shoes. I cannot imagine want a person is going through financially due to this crisis. Catholics make all sorts of judgments or assumptions about a person’s intentions and motivations. I can’t tell you why certain bishops or politicians acted a particular way during this pandemic. But I can TRY to see their point of view.
Pro-tip: Avoid making assumptions if you want to improve your empathy. Assumptions are the BIGGEST killer of empathy.
Pause➡ Think➡ React
Pause before you act on social media.
Stop. Look. Listen. It’s what we were taught as kids before crossing the street. What if a similar approach was used when using social media?
Scrolling down your newsfeed you stop on an interesting post. The headline caught your attention or your Facebook friend wrote something to hook you. Whatever emotions get evoked it is important to pause. Even a 30 second pause before typing can be helpful. A short stop before crossing into Comment Boulevard will help reframe your attitude.
Read the Bible
Do you remember singing Jesus Loves Me (or being sung to) to your kids? It’s good to remind ourselves of the lyrics:
Yes, Jesus loves me
For the Bible tells me so (tells me)
So (tells me so)
Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong
Here’s the thing, Jesus loves you (and me) and the whole world. A simple way for Catholics be more united is develop a habit of reading the Bible. The Bible is a collection of books testifying to God’s plan for salvation from sin. If you feel you’re beginning to get frustrated on social media go to the Scriptures for guidance, patience, and perspective.
Pray for Unity
God desires the Catholic Church to be one. Sin fractures relationships. The Enemy wants to use the suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic to splinter the Church’s unity. Saint Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God’s ways are above our total comprehension.
Why does he allow a booming economy to be shut down? How can He let racism persist? Does God care when the vulnerable are dying alone in the hospital?
These questions are all legitimate (I think about these often). Difficulties don’t mean doubts about the faith. Catholics across the world (and especially in the United States) need to choose love over hate. Empathy over assumption. Prayer over complaints.
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” —John 17:20-21
If you look up synonyms for PANDEMIC, you find at least 40 different words of which only a small handful seem at all connotative of something as negative as the Coronavirus. Most eml of the synonyms listed seem to invoke a description rdmore relatable to what many films of us have found as an antidote to our current situation of fear and outbreak
Catholic (but catholic, with a little “c”)
One of the first words I saw was “catholic”; not to be confused with Catholic, which is a proper noun describing a kind of Christian. The adjective catholic also means universal, and when we say the Nicene Creed at each Sunday liturgy, we are proclaiming belief in the four pillars of the church; one, holy, catholic (not Catholic) and apostolic. We are stating our belief in the one church of Jesus Christ that is his universal church.
There are few times I feel more catholic (and Catholic) than when I say the rosary because it is the total and the whole of intercessory prayer (by the way, ALL synonyms for pandemic as well.) I feel I can–in a steady and comprehensive way–capture the totality of all prayers in my heart, as well as those for the suffering around the world, and give them all to Jesus in faith through the capable hands of his mother.
“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”
-Saint Maximillan Kolbe
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. —Revelation 12:1
Empyrean means heavenly or celestial. The divine transcends through prayer of the rosary because of the four sets of mysteries we consider, Glorious, Sorrowful, Joyful or Luminous are scriptural. Each guide us through five “decades” which begin with an Our Father, then ten Hail Mary prayers, and finally a Glory Be.
Each decade is based on a moment in the life and legacy of Christ, including that which began in the womb of his Blessed Mother, and ending with her reuniting with him in Heaven. We meditate through these divine moments with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, which can take us to great depths of these great mysteries. Where would we be without the divine help of the Holy Spirit?
“The celestial b0odies are the cause of all that takes place in the sublunar world.” –Saint Thomas Aquinas
The repetitive prayer of the “Hail Mary”, most of which is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 1, starting around verse 42 “Hail Mary, full of grace…” ends with a simple a petition to ask Our Lady for her prayers, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.” I think it is a good idea to ask her to pray for us at this defining moment, when we enter the empyrean realm.
We do not usually think of the physical when considering prayer, but the rosary involves the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—as we account for each prayer while walking with the Blessed Virgin Mary through her son’s life. Because my own ‘terrestrial” mother has been devoted to the rosary for years, having made many a pilgrimage, she has a wide variety of rosaries.
Taking an extra suitcase when she goes on her “holy travels”, my mom buys up all the rosaries she can fit and brings them home to hand out to everyone she meets all year long. On several occasions she purchased one for every child in my kids’ school (about 350 students.)
The rosaries range from simple plastic rosaries, to six-feet-long rosaries that include every decade—all 20—on one long strand. Some rosaries are themed, such one I have with icons of the great basilicas as the Our Father beads; there are also “peace rosaries”, and “stations of the cross” rosaries. Some rosaries have special beads that smell like rose petals because many have reported the smell of roses when fervently praying the rosary in holy places. Others are made from small rocks from the land where visions of Our Lady took place (I have one of these too!)
In any case, if you ask someone who has a great devotion to the rosary to tell you about their favorite rosary you will get a fast answer. Devotees hold fast to their favorite. Some prefer the smooth wood or the gripping texture of rope. Consequently, if we get too attached to our favorite rosary, sometimes we will be asked to give it up to someone else.
Unique Tool for Spiritual Growth
I have heard many stories of someone who adores a certain rosary (for sentimental reasons or the feel of it, etc.) they will hear the Holy Spirit nudge them to give it away. Always reluctant, they hear it loud and clear within their spirit and feel the unmistakable nudge to hand it over. Always to a recipient that seems to be on the verge of discovering the devotion for themselves and sure enough pass the special sacramental on to bless another. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants us to keep the spirit of the prayer in the forefront, which is trust in the intercessory prayer of Jesus’ favorite lady, his mom.
Many of the faithful have turned to this prayer over centuries of pandemic disease, wars, starvation and natural disasters. With burdened fingers grasping the smooth beads in search of refuge, tender souls find themselves universally affected. Perhaps the fifteen promises that accompany the rosary make it appealing to some. I believe the rosary is pandemic because we receive consolation from our spiritual mother.
“Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today. All graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother.” —Saint Padre Pio
“The Rosary is a prayer both so humble and simple and theologically rich in bible content. I beg you to pray it.” –Saint John Paul The Great
“There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult is it, that we cannot resolve by the power of the Holy Rosary.” Sister Lucia (visionary of Fatima)
“Give me an army saying the rosary, and I will conquer the world.” –Blessed Pope Pius IX
Megan Naumovski is on a mission to remind the world of the love God has for each and every soul, and how that love deserves our response. Every day she is a wife and mom in her domestic church, but in the world she helps lead others to Christ though ministry leadership, teaching, speaking and blogging at The Domestic Church of Bosco, http://boscoworld.blog.
Pray for everyone affected by the coronavirus. Is the toilet paper shortage frustrating? Definitely, but remember we are all on the same side—Team Humanity.
We should be helping the most vulnerable. Why? Because Jesus did that. He dined with sinners and tax collectors. Allowed the prostitute to wash his feet with her hair and perfume—even though the elite ridiculed him for that decision.
Christ let the children come to listen to him. He wasn’t afraid to help the leper. When he was tempted by the Devil, despite being hungry and thirsty, Jesus never gave into worldly power.
Social distancing makes it tougher to help our neighbor in the same tangible way that Christ helped those around him. But that shouldn’t cause us to lead to inaction.
As a Catholic, I became an adopted son of God. The Holy Spirit swells within all baptized individuals. A creative force of Love, the Holy Spirit will never cease to inspire us and grant us the gifts of courage, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, and wonder. The key is we have to be ready to ask for the gifts. Humble ourselves.
Here are a few ways to be the hands and feet of Christ during this pandemic crisis:
1️⃣ Hand write letters you your family members, especially those lonely, neighbors, or even contact a nursing home to get names of senior citizens to write to.
2️⃣ Don’t take more than you need
There is a difference between gathering for reasonable concern over a quarantine versus hoarding goods in panicked response or because you want to turn a profit.
3️⃣ Exercise charity online
Social distancing doesn’t mean people will stop being social. Digital interactions will increase. While we have been used to social media for years, the newsfeed has become saturated with negativity about the virus.
Fighting fire with fire only leads to more flames. The same is true with negativity. Match pessimism with a greater dosage of positivity. Be kind and empathetic online to others. Share a funny anecdote about how you are dealing with this crisis.
Jesus forgave Peter for being a jerk who denied him three times. You can certainly forgive those people who acted uncharitably regarding this issue or those individuals whose hysteria led to hoarding.
St. Paul was right in writing in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no better time as the present to start. Learn from the suffering caused by this pandemic to love others!