I like a good vacation. I think most of us do! You look forward to the time, and you work at the planning and the booking and the schedule. It is a bit of an art form if you do it right. Each year it becomes an expression of our way of relaxing and gives us some quality time with our friends and, if we also use the time for a retreat, it can be, on another level, a time of ‘re-creation’, making us better people and helping us to do our life’s work better and in a more grateful way.
This year I had to cancel my vacation. I’m sure this has happened to many here in the Parish! The normal routine of life that gets interrupted by the Pandemic throws us into a kind of off kilter feeling. We get a lot of stability and even peace from the daily actions of our lives. Though at times we may feel bored with things, they still give us a feeling of reassurance. But, not with this Pandemic that just won’t go away!
Some of the things that we have to change are basic things like gatherings of loved ones, celebrations of life, etc. This is done under the menacing presence of the danger that can be visited upon us by sickness and death. This constant drone of possible peril gives us the energy to change our ordinary way of life until this artificial reaction to this Pandemic becomes almost natural to us.
All of this under the glaring sun of not knowing when we will get back to ‘normal’. The interruption becomes our state of being.
Routine has gotten a bad name. It is true that we can do things mindlessly, especially if we do them each day. But studies have proven that children need routine to give them a sense of order. This extends even to pets! I remember when I had cats that, if I ever deviated from my nightly routine, they reacted by meowing and carrying on. I know this sounds crazy, but I think the sense of order that routine gives us is needed by us at every stage of development.
St. Benedict in his Rule for monasteries uses this important fact to create a sense of order and stability for his monks. There is an unbroken regularity about the monastic day that may seem boring to some people; but to those who give themselves to the experience, it provides a sense of purpose where every important aspect of our common humanity is provided the grace and space to grow.
The first thing I noticed about this Pandemic when it hit was that it interrupted the carefully constructed daily routines that I had built up over the years. I often had difficulty even remembering what day it was! This made me try to find new ways of daily being and acting that I could fit into the new template that I was creating.
In some ways I had more time, but that soon began to evaporate as I tried to find ways of being a Shepherd to this Parish: phone calls, streaming of Masses, ‘Fireside Chats’, ways of counseling, all for the purpose of running a diverse and complex Parish.
Slowly, as we passed through the different phases, things started to change. Confessions, counseling, wakes and funerals, even a Wedding or two (very safely done), and Baptisms began to be celebrated again, albeit with new and necessary safety protocols. Streaming is continuing, and we hope to have a permanent and high-quality streaming system installed in the Church very soon. In short, we are working on what the new normal is going to be.
So now the interruption is being interrupted! More things we have to get used to. More possibilities open up and we have to constantly ask ourselves: how many precautions do I have to take? Am I being too careful or not careful enough?
Getting back to a routine has become more elusive than I thought. Uncertainty seems to be the environment of the new normal. So, we strive to do the will of God even though we have been interrupted.
I wonder what St. Benedict would say?
“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow Jesus’ paths by the guidance of the Gospel.” – St. Benedict