I mean that of course in the best possible way.
Yesterday morning I went to Mass at the Church of the Assumption in Pasadena, then stayed for a Lenten mission talk by Fr. Francis Benedict of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, CA.
That afternoon I got word that my gym had closed “till further notice” (they’re no longer even saying till March 31, which could be good news or bad news, depending on which way you choose to read it).
And last night Archbishop Gomez sent out word that all Masses in the Archdiocese of LA had been cancelled.
Nonetheless, the churches will remain open (probably at the discretion of the pastor) for Adoration, private prayer and Confession.
The church, the library, the gym and recovery meetings make up most of my external world. But I can adapt. And the interior world that has been formed over the decades by this very small, very unremarkable, version of the monastic way of ora et labora remains absolutely intact.
Thus my daily life is not very different than it’s always been. In fact, if anything, I feel busier than usual, what with people checking in, wanting to connect, hear a word of consolation, swap stories, jokes, reflections and insights.
“Apocalypse” means to uncover (same root word fyi as eucalyptus, which means “well-covered,” in reference to the cap that covers the unopened flower; note also the Island of Calypso (“she who conceals”)).
Much is being uncovered in these unprecedented times. One is the credo by which each of us has chosen, all along, to live.
One reader for example observed yesterday: “There’s something Dante-esque about the COVID-19 phenomenon. You’re not likely to die from it. But in order to deal with it, individuals need to self-isolate, voluntarily or otherwise (which amounts to… otherwise). The curious thing is that self-isolation is at the core of the whole modern project. You know, we can all be “masters of our fate” and “captains of our soul.” It’s as if we’re being told “You break, you bought it.” You wanted to be on your own? Be on your own. See how you like it. Like a circle of hell.”
Another approach was advanced by Dr. Tom Neal, who posted the following
“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb [or in this case coronavirus], let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies but they need not dominate our minds.”
—C.S. Lewis, from “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays
Finally, yesterday afternoon I talked to my friend Tensie from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker. Tensie, her husband Dennis (who is close to 70) and their fellow member Jorge serve the farm workers, poor, sick, disenfranchised, and broken of the Central Coast. Among other things, they distribute food and clothing, run interference with the health care system, provide shelter, and operate a free medical clinic.
Perhaps most importantly, they are simply present. They share birthdays, deaths, marriages. They listen. They open their hearts and share their time, labor, blood, sweat, nerves, wisdom and bread.
“Our people are asking us, ‘Are you going to shut down? Are you closing your doors?’ We are telling them, “No! In fact, we want to double down and help even more in this time of crisis.”
I was reminded of St. Camillus, the sickly priest who served during the Bubonic Plague and founded the order known as Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (abbreviated as M.I.), better known as the Camillians.
The priests provide both spiritual and physical care. Besides the common three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, the members of the Order take a fourth vow to serve the poor sick–even when they are infectious.
Even at the risk to their own lives.