It is hard for many of us to believe that we are already in the fifth week of Lent and on the threshold of our Holy Week pilgrimage. As we began our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, we had no idea that our usual Lenten routine would be overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. By the second week of Lent, we were already making plans for implementing a monastery lockdown from March 18th to April 5th.
Many of us have realized that our Lenten resolutions, if we had time to make any, were thrown by the wayside. Yet, we realize that this time of social distancing is a time for silence, prayer, deeper relationship with one another, and loving service to our Sisters through the many jobs we have had to undertake in the absence of most of our employees. Even though we are not a “cloistered” community, we are certainly getting a taste of that sacred lifestyle.
With news of the pandemic constantly before our eyes, we may feel overwhelmed with the uncertain longevity of this crisis. We cannot even imagine the pain of those who have experienced the severity of this unexpected plague. Yet in our hearts, we carry the following prayer: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side… (Psalm 23:4).”
During this “cloistered” time, we have enjoyed occasional solitary walks on sunny days to experience God’s gentle surprises of spring delight: the radiant sunlight of the jonquils, the pastel pink blossoms of the Japanese tulip trees, the tapestry of white and violet blossoms covering moss green mounds, the red tulip buds, the snowy cherry blossoms, and the flaming red azaleas. It is during these sacred walks that we realize our Lenten journey involves dying to anything that keeps us from being bearers of God’s life and grace.
In the Gospel for this past Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 11:1-45), Jesus is informed that his beloved friend Lazarus is dead. He instructed the stone to the tomb to be removed. He raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And he then cried out “Lazarus, come out!” After Lazarus came out, Jesus requested that the burial bands and cloth be removed. And Lazarus came forth with new life.
Perhaps our Lenten resolution this year is to ask Jesus to free the chains of this horrific pandemic, to remember all those who are under the shadow of this virus, to remember all those who have lost their lives, and to do our part in social distancing as a means of loving our neighbor.
As the pandemic statistics continue to escalate, we recently had another meeting to discuss more social distancing measures to ensure our safety within the monastery walls. We closed the meeting with the following prayer written by Sr. Lynn Marie McKenzie:
Prayer in the Time of COVID-19
O Holy Father Benedict and Holy Mother Scholastica,
We ask you to intercede for our world as we face the danger of the coronavirus. May we have your faith to remain strong, your love to give to our hurting and frightened world, and your fidelity to the monastic way of life with which we have been entrusted. Knowing we are your followers, imperfect though we are, we call on your strong advocacy before God’s generous providence asking for protection and deliverance from this dread disease. We ask this of you, faithful founders of our way of life who live in full union with the God who loves us and wants only our good. Amen.
Even though this is a different kind of Lent, we still “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”
(The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 49:7, The Observance of Lent)
By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB