In the days since Pope Francis’ March 27 Urbi et Orbi, I keep going back to the images in my mind. Was it not haunting? Watching our very frail-looking pontiff walking alone through a dark, rainy, cold St. Peter’s Square just about ripped my heart out. It was the perfect metaphor for the entire world in the past several weeks. Dark. Quiet. Frightening.
I have been alone in my house for the better part of the past three weeks. My entire routine has been taken away. I am an extrovert who lives alone, so I have generally made it a point to be on the go. In my “normal” life, I drive around the city selling real estate. I work out at a studio. I attend daily Mass. I stop by to help my parents. I visit family. I plan special time with my nieces and nephews. I usually pick up the healthiest lunch I can find “on the go”, and I eat dinner out with friends more evenings than not.
Now I sit at home. I can’t eat out. I can’t go shopping. My gym is closed. My parents are on lockdown, and I haven’t seen them in three weeks. My only contact with the rest of the world is virtual — phone, text, Facetime. I’m a hugger who hasn’t had a hug in a really long time.
I’m not complaining, and I’m not making this all about me. It’s just that we’ve all lost our normal. No more sports. No more concerts. No more parties. No more social life, period, except the occasional Facetime happy hour. And, for many, no work, and thus no discretionary money to indulge in those habits even if they were available.
People keep asking why God is doing this to us.
I don’t know that God so much “does things” to us as he allows the natural consequences of a sinful, post-Fall world to play out.
But it occurs to me that maybe the Almighty is allowing us to be uncomfortable for a while, to remind us of what is really important.
Most of what has been taken from us isn’t bad. Sports and shopping and parties are all, in and of themselves, morally neutral activities. And the love of money may be the root of all evil, but none of us can go very far without having at least some of it.
But how many of those things have become gods in our lives? How many of them have taken time, and energy, and enthusiasm, that could be better re-channeled into our relationship and service to the real God?
We have all been forced to slow down — a lot — in these past few weeks. Many of us are having to structure our lives in a completely different way. And we’re finding it shakes up our assumptions about how we needed to live before.
As for me, I have discovered that the world doesn’t come crashing to a halt when I stay at home. I can even eat here. I have saved money and lost weight — often while still sharing the meal with my friends via Facetime. And I am reminded that, when I am home alone, I am really not alone. God is here with me. And he likes it when I acknowledge him.
I don’t know why God is allowing this, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is active in it. I believe he wants us to be different coming out of this than we were going into it. He wants to give us this time to really examine our regular lives, from the outside, to see what we have been taking for granted, what we have made too important, and what needs to change.
To me, the heart of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi message was this: “This Lent your call reverberates urgently: ‘Be converted!’, ‘Return to me with all your heart.’” Stripped of so many of the distractions that take up our days, we have the opportunity to do what he is always calling us to do — to turn to him, to get to know him, to return to him with all our hearts instead of just the little slivers of our time and our hearts we generally allocate to him.
God loves each of us individually, so the impact and the changes are going to look different for each person. I would encourage you, then, to really make an effort to turn to him in this time. Turn off the Netflix, walk away from Facebook. Spend quiet time with him. Read Scripture. Read spiritual books.
And, most important, talk to him. Every day. Ask him what gifts he has for you in this time. What does he want you to see? To change? What specific aspects of your life does he want you to re-evaluate? Who is he calling you to become, on the other side of this pandemic?
It is my great prayer that everyone — myself included — comes out of this crisis closer to the God who love us. And with a better sense of the priorities he would have for our lives.
In the meantime, be safe.