We are living in a desert. All our familiar escapes are gone. Because of the visitation of this nefarious and stealthy illness, we are grounded in solitude.
True, we can use our phones and social media to be connected. But this is a poor substitute for being with people you care about! Even staying with one’s family can be a bit of a burden, not only when the enforced living reveals long buried fissures of resentments and hurts, but also in the ‘cabin fever’ that can overwhelm us at times.
Much of what we used as props or supports have been taken away, at least for a time. We are led to our own hermitage where we can be with God or be subject to the whim of demons.
Because of our long and instructive history, we can learn from the past the tools which may help us get through this period of time, tools that we can still use when this time, gratefully, ends.
The period of time in our history that I want to focus in on is the period in the 4th Century when Christianity finally became legal and even gave former pagans a preferred way of social advancement.
After Emperor Constantine became a Christian and issued his Edict of Toleration in 313AD, everyone wanted to be a Christian. It became ‘the thing’.
During almost the three centuries of persecution, only the true believers who were willing to risk their lives became Christians. It was momentous to be Baptized and dangerous to your kith and kin. There was, therefore, a natural barrier that screened out the dilettantes and the lukewarm. You had to be willing to face the lions, literally!
When it became OK to be a Christian, and even smart to be one, many of the true believers watched the newcomers dilute the fervor of belief. As often happens during such a crisis in the Church, God called a man, named Anthony, in Egypt to create a new movement that changed the Church. He left all his riches and went to live alone in the desert. He replaced the fervor engendered in persecution with the devotion of sacrifice. He was alone, ‘Monos’, before God. In English, that is what is translated as a ‘monk’. Men and women saw this and also left the cities, with their corruption and their easy Christianity, and developed a spirituality of the Desert. ‘Being alone before God’ swept through the Christian world and gave us another way to be a fervent Christian. This ‘monastic’ movement created a new world order shaping the history of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
In this present Crisis, we are in a new crossroads: we can learn a lot from those desert warriors of old.
Our homes are now our choice places of prayer. Whether it is through the internet or TV, or just kneeling before a prayer ‘altar’, we can savor the presence of God right at home. For families, this can become a wonderful opportunity to pray together. Maybe the Rosary is best to say together. Maybe it is Scripture readings. Or just watching a Mass on TV or on the computer as a family. It can be even a moment of closeness as we have the opportunity to reflect together.
There is an old expression: when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade! While we hope that this period of distress ends quickly and that the people we love and care about remain safe throughout, it could be a loving time that can help us to grow in Christ, either as a family or in solitary, praying to God in this modern desert.
While it may be a strange kind of love, it may help us grow in our relationship with God and with each other.
O Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas, pray for us who have recourse to thee!