Turning to God during the pandemic and maintaining momentum afterwards Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Thursday, May. 07, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
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Questions often raised during these weeks of social isolation and pandemic are: What am I learning from this experience? How will my life be different going forward? How will society change as a result?

I have heard from many people who are feeling a greater need for God in their lives. When we confront suffering, fear, loneliness, and privation, we gain greater insight into the essential nature of life's meaning.

Discovering what really matters

Without frenetic activity to distract us, with less social contact to sustain us, with the threat or reality of sickness, unemployment, and even death staring us in the face, we discover very quickly what really matters.

Many people are turning to God in these days, praying more, reading the Scriptures, watching online Masses, going to confession, even as we all miss the public celebration of the Mass and the reception of the Eucharist.

When society is back in its usual rhythms and our lives resume their usual busyness and distraction, will we be able to maintain a greater spiritual momentum with weekly Mass, prayer, Scripture study, and silence centering our daily existence? I pray so.

Deeper appreciation for families

With the closure of schools, families have been together all the time in these weeks. Many folks have deepened their appreciation for their spouses, parents, and children, having spent so much time together sharing meals, games, homework, and chores to a far greater extent than they ever have.

While being together so much for so long creates inevitable tensions and challenges, this protracted family time has changed many people's gratitude for the relationships in their lives. A goal of our upcoming evangelization initiative will be helping everyone to live Sunday as Sabbath, with Mass, family prayer, meals, rest, and outings making Sunday what God intended it to be.

Will families carry forward their new routines of relationship past the pandemic, or will we simply fall back into the old ways of busyness and distraction? Imagine if everyone practiced Sunday as a true day of worship, rest, and renewal in the Lord!

Finding a healthy balance

This social isolation seems to have created two extremes in people's experience. Either they struggle with too much togetherness or too much isolation. Those living alone crave the reassurance of social interaction; those who live with others long for more solitude.

This common experience reveals that healthy human flourishing holds a balance of time with others and time alone. Too much of an extreme can truly throw us off kilter.

I pray for those who have struggled with the devastating effects of profound loneliness during this difficult time. Feeling completely cut off from others can truly be psychologically and spiritually destructive. Perhaps the greatest human fear is that of being completely alone, forgotten, and unloved, cut off from life. Many people have had to face this disturbing reality in new and disorienting ways.

Being alone can bear spiritual fruit

Being alone, however, can bear spiritual fruit if we let it. In a solitary environment, we face a silence that can disarm, disturb, and even destroy us. Think of solitary confinement in a prison -- nothing to idealize or long for.

But if we can embrace silence and solitude and even try to befriend them, we may gradually discover God speaking to us in the dark night of the soul. We will hear questions arising in our hearts that often never surface in a world of noise and action. We will feel God's presence in a mysterious way that evades words.

We will discover our weakness, fear, fragility, and wounds in deeper ways, but if we keep going to the Lord in prayer, He will gradually heal what is broken within us through a peace that flows in solitude and silence. If we have the courage to embrace our loneliness and not fill it with noise and distraction, we will find it to be a holy place of encounter with God.

Need for authentic contact

In these weeks of isolation, I have certainly come to a deeper appreciation for family, friends, priests, diocesan staff, lay leaders, and people of the diocese. Connecting with others through phone calls, texts, and Zoom sessions remind me of the blessings and graces that flow from human relationship and the need for authentic contact with those around me.

In the normal flow of things, we concentrate so intently on the tasks that demand our attention, that little time is left for simply spending time with people. I have struggled my whole life, as I am sure many of you have, with doing too much, saying yes to everything, rushing from one task to the next.

I have certainly felt the tug in these past weeks to be more and do less, to prioritize my work, to focus on the essential. Life is brief and fragile, as we all come to know. The older I get, the less many things matter, but the things that do matter much more.

New evangelization initiative

You will be hearing much about our diocesan evangelization initiative -- a concerted, ongoing effort to engage leaders, Catholics in the pew, disconnected Catholics, and the community at large with the saving, transforming power of Jesus Christ, manifest in the Church and unleashed upon us in the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of the sacraments.

The experiences, questions, lessons, and insights that these months of pandemic and social isolation have offered us naturally converge with my hope for the fruitfulness of our evangelizing efforts. When life knocks us off our secure place of self-sufficiency, disorients our security, and opens us up to the big questions of life, we are ripe for a deeper faith in Jesus Christ!