Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Will Absence Make Our Hearts Grow Fonder?

Have you ever noticed the minute something is forbidden, our desire for that certain something skyrockets? For example, a few years ago I decided to give up donuts for Lent. The moment I woke up on Ash Wednesday morning, I didn’t simply think a donut would be a nice addition to my breakfast of Cheerios and a banana. Instead I had a craving for an entire box of 12 donuts, with very specific choices required. (Buttercrunch, chocolate-frosted chocolate, and blueberry glaze were at the top of the list.)

I suppose there is a psychological explanation of why our desire for something increases when it is not available anymore. Maybe that old expression explains it: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Hopefully, Catholics are feeling exactly this way during the COVID-19 pandemic. (No, I don’t mean a craving for donuts. That’s not a very healthy desire, regardless of a person’s religion.)

What I’m referring to is the fact it’s been quite a while now that we have been unable to gather as parish communities in our churches for Mass and receive the Eucharist. I hope there are some Catholics who may have been going through the motions for many years, taking Sunday Mass and the Eucharist for granted, and now that this crucial act of worship is forbidden, they have developed a strong urge to gather with fellow believers and receive the true Body and Blood of Christ.

Wouldn’t it be great if a byproduct of this health crisis is a revival in Eucharistic devotion? Wouldn’t it be great if an absence of Communion truly makes our hearts grow fonder to partake of the sacraments?

I sincerely hope that is the case. However, I am a little concerned about one aspect of our response to the coronavirus emergency. When all public gatherings were prohibited by government officials, and social distancing measures were employed, our bishops wisely suspended public Masses. After all, this nasty respiratory illness is very contagious, and the virus can be transmitted by people doing normal breathing within four or five feet of each other. A church building packed with Easter Sunday worshippers would be the ideal scenario for the disease to spread like wildfire.
The bishops clearly explained that in times of emergency, when the sacraments are not available, if people sincerely desire to receive the graces conferred by the Eucharist, Confession, and the Anointing of the Sick, they in fact will receive those graces. After all, God is much more concerned about mercy and compassion than He is about exact liturgical procedures.

But here’s my concern: when some parishioners asked if it was possible to receive the Eucharist and go to Confession, as long as careful hygienic and social distancing practices were followed, the bishops flat-out said no. Maybe they were concerned that if they made exceptions, some people would not follow careful health practices and end up getting infected.

The thing is, places such as Walmart and liquor stores are open for business, and as long as customers wear masks and keep their distance from each other, they can purchase, for example, tube socks and vodka. But churches are not open for business, and faithful Catholics cannot partake of the Sacraments, no matter how careful they are. Some people conclude this means tube socks and vodka are more important than the Body of Christ.
I fear that some Catholics, rather than have the absence of the Eucharist make their hearts grow fonder for Christ, will interpret this situation to mean Mass attendance and the Eucharist are not a big deal after all. I hope this is not the case.

When churches finally re-open, and we can worship with our parish family and received the Eucharist again, let’s pray that absence has indeed made our hearts grow fonder. And let’s demonstrate by our actions that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, is much more important than tube socks, vodka, or even a box of 12 luscious donuts.

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