Updated: Jun 12
In March, the world collapsed. Countries shut down. It seemed like the end was upon us. Here at the convent we kept up our regular schedule and moved through our days with relatively little disruption. Praying the liturgy of the hours as the coronavirus pandemic reached the Kansas City area filled me with strange feelings. I felt awe at the majesty of a God that could still call forth my praise in the middle of terror and anxiety. I felt confusion and fear and calm and joy and it was just really weird. I was initially very nervous – I had been out and about before the lockdown came, and what if I was infected and didn’t know it? I was not afraid of being sick. I am still young and dumb enough to believe in my own invincibility. I would be fine. But my sisters might not be. They are not young or dumb or invincible. This virus targets the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. My community could be described as elderly with pre-existing health conditions. I'm not brave enough to face my sisters experiencing the kind of suffering that can come from a bout with COVID-19. I’m not ready for anyone to die. But as waves of anxiety would hit, a line from a psalm would drift through my head. “But our God is in the Heavens/ He does whatever he wills.” Inevitably, I would think, this is what we’re here for… not to feel anxious and vulnerable, but to pray.
As everyone decided on showing an abundance of caution, every spring retreat after mid-March was cancelled. Our main external apostolate (the retreat center) was stripped away, but the core of our life began to shine through. I kept thinking, this is what we’re here for, as I went to chapel to pray and took care of basic responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. Though I continued in my school work (I’ve been enduring online education for nearly three years – my heart goes out to every student who had their educational routine so abruptly changed for the worse) other things, like vocations events and meetings and my work in the book store vanished. Each morning I rise and join my sisters for Morning Prayer. I spend an hour afterwards praying in our adoration chapel. I cook meals a couple of times a week, do dishes every day, and pitch in on various chores and projects. At some point each day we have Mass. I gather with my sisters after supper for Evening Prayer. I pray the rosary each day. These things have always been present, but suddenly I can see clearly that they are the only things that actually matter in my schedule.
In many ways, this period of pandemic has been an enormous opportunity; it is the time for us to become saints. I say this even as I recognize that I haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity. But seriously, when else have we been forced back to the core of our lives? Suddenly our first role, for some of us the only role left, is our vocation. It is not so important if we are employed in a particular kind of work. We are experiencing similar things across occupational lines. But what has begun to matter a great deal is whether we are religious sisters or wives and mothers or husbands and fathers or single persons. Suddenly the most important thing for us to do is just to be what we are. Taking care of our families now ranks ahead of attending that work meeting on zoom. Praying with our religious community now ranks ahead of preparing the retreat center for guests that are not coming. Like I said before, I think I’ve wasted the opportunity so far. I haven’t leaned into prayer like I could have. I haven’t treated my core responsibilities as opportunities to serve God and my sisters. I have whined and complained and failed to trust God. But just seeing that this time is a time for returning to the core of my identity has been a tremendous gift.