COVID-19: In the Desert with Jesus

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Because of the current situation of the COVID 19 global pandemic, we find ourselves in unique and uncharted territory. Schools and activities are cancelled and we are called to stay home as much as possible and avoid social gatherings, or, as it is called, to practice “social distancing.” For some, this may feel new and strange. For others, it is a way of life. Many religious monks and nuns live secluded and isolated lives, separate and sheltered from the noise and chaos of the rest of the world. For those who have experienced this type of life, you know that it can lead to immense peace and oneness with God, and that those who live cloistered or monastic lives often are some of the happiest and most content people.

We can look at this temporary situation of imposed isolation and seclusion as a great blessing and a means to deepen our own spiritual lives and our relationships with God and our families. Free from the distractions of unnecessary gatherings and activities, we can focus our attention inward and get in touch with God speaking in our hearts. For those of us lay people who ordinarily live, work, and play in the world, it is often difficult to “hear” God speaking in our hearts because his voice is drowned out by the noise and chatter around us. The blessing of the situation we find ourselves in now is that the unnecessary and extraneous activity has been taken away, and we find ourselves in a sort of a “desert” in our homes where there is more peace and silence. If we use this time wisely, spending time in prayer and reflection, we can learn to listen more fully to God and grow in love for him.

Deserts are hot, dry, and sparse and can be very uncomfortable. The circumstances we are in now may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to some. It may feel boring or empty to some without the entertainment and activities that we are used to. However, we should remember that Jesus himself spent 40 days in the desert, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. We can unite our own sacrifices and prayers during this time with his, and offer them to the Father for ourselves and for all those who are or will be directly affected by the coronavirus. As Catholics, we are familiar with the phrase “offer it up” and now is a perfect time to do just that for the good of the Church, the world, and those affected by this pandemic.

Remembering that we are, indeed, in the middle of Lent, we are provided with a perfect opportunity to use this time as a sort of “retreat” and make some time each day for prayer and spiritual reading or reflection. We can engage in spiritual reading to learn more about our faith and to give us food for reflection. Praying the Rosary as a family and viewing the Mass which is being streamed for us by many sources online, along with making a spiritual communion, are ways we can maintain our devotion and even grow in our faith during this time. By making efforts to grow in the faith, we learn to recognize the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and we come to know Jesus more fully.

Being in the desert can be very productive, as God can prune away our faults and sins and change our hearts during this time. The experience can be a great blessing if we imitate Jesus and continue to fast and pray throughout this period. If we continue to endeavor to pray, fast, and give alms throughout this Lent, we will experience the Easter joy in our homes and hearts, and hopefully we will be able to celebrate once again the Eucharist on Easter Sunday in our communities. Let’s pray that this virus will be subdued and that by Easter we can gather together again in thanksgiving and joy.

A Time to Dance – Celebrating the Carnival Season

Image by Hannah Alkadi from Pixabay 

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)

The Church orders these times, or seasons, for us through the ebb and flow of the liturgical year. The Church year contains periods of ordinary time interspersed with the penitential seasons of Advent and Lenten fasting and festive celebratory feasts, most notably Christmas and Easter.

As Lent approaches, many Catholics celebrate the Carnival season beginning with Epiphany, which occurs on January 6, also known as “Twelfth Night,” as it is the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Carnival season, with its festive-colored beads, parades, and rich foods, continues for several weeks until Mardi Gras Day, or “Fat Tuesday,” which is the eve of Ash Wednesday. During carnival, which, translated, means “farewell to meat,” early Catholic Christians used up all of the rich foods in the home, such as meat, eggs, milk, and fat, to prepare for the Lenten fast, which was considerably more austere at the time. Although Mardi Gras has, in places, become more wordly and secular, the intent of the feasting and celebration of the season is to rejoice and, in a sense, “live it up” for time to prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for the rigor of Lenten fasting and abstinence. From the festive parades to the elaborate balls and rich foods, Mardi Gras is about celebration. However, the feasting has traditionally ended at midnight, as the costumes are put away and the revelers awake on Ash Wednesday to enter into the more somber and pious period of the Lenten season.

Mardi Gras has its origins in 17th and 18th Century Europe and made its way across the Atlantic with French settlers. Although New Orleans is notorious for its Mardi Gras festivities, many claim the celebration of the feast was actually held first in Mobile, Alabama. In 1702, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville established the settlement of Mobile, or “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” as it was originally named, and Mardi Gras was celebrated in the new colony the very next year. However, some say the very first American Mardi Gras took place a few years earlier on March 3, 1699, when Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville reached a spot near New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day and named it “La Pointe du Mardy Gras.” It is said that New Orleans followed suit after its founding, also by Bienville, in 1718. Mardi Gras has since evolved into the energetic and elaborate festivities which occur today in New Orleans, Mobile, and the surrounding areas, and it has since migrated to other parts of the country as well.

The rich symbolism of Mardi Gras can help us to remain focused on Christ as we enjoy this period of feasting and merrymaking. The season is surrounded by visible signs of Christianity, which serve to strengthen our devotion during this time. At Epiphany, many indulge in King Cake, which commemorates the coming of the three Wise Men to the newborn Infant Jesus after his birth. The Mardi Gras colors themselves – purple, green, and gold – represent the characteristics of justice, faith, and power, respectively. In the center of the King Cake can often be found a plastic baby, signifying the Christ Child. With it, we are reminded to continue to rejoice at the birth of our Savior, as we transition to the more ascetical practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving that we will begin to undertake during the upcoming forty days of Lent.

Many people have a renewed interest in reviving the original Catholic purpose and practice of the celebration of the Mardi Gras, or Carnival, season. It should be a time that families and communities gather to experience friendship and fellowship in a joyful and wholesome manner, in anticipation of the more prayerful and penitential time of Lent. It is necessary to have times of rejoicing and celebrating to balance the hardships and trials that we all face in life. St. John Paul II remarked that, “God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us.” We should recapture the rhythm of the liturgical year by fully engaging in and enjoying our festive seasons, as well as participate in the sacrifice of the penitential ones.

Mardi Gras is an excellent time to come together as a family or community and enjoy the gift of life that we have been given. If your geographical area happens not to host parades or festivities for this season, you can create your own by baking your own King Cake or pancakes, which is another traditional Mardi Gras indulgence. Families with children can create their own Mardi Gras masks, decorated with traditional colors of purple, green, and gold, or can dress up in costumes to commemorate the day. The idea is to revel in the day, preparing for the change in seasons which occurs at midnight before Ash Wednesday.

In an article from Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family, Maria Von Trapp comments that “It should be our noble right and duty to bring up our children in such a way that they become conscious of high tide and low tide, that they learn that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4). The rhythm of nature as it manifests itself in the four seasons, in day and night, in the individual’s heartbeat and breathing—this rhythm we should learn to recognize and to treat with more reverence.”

Maria Von Trapp is encouraging us, as Catholics, to recognize and respect the times and seasons of the Church year, and to observe the feasts and seasons within the family, so that we can live out our Faith and enter into the rhythm of the liturgical year. In this way, we are participating in and becoming the kingdom of God on earth. Mardi Gras should never be reduced to just a time to “party.” If we only celebrate Mardi Gras without Ash Wednesday and Lent, the celebration becomes meaningless and loses its value and the satisfaction that is meant to be experienced from it. We may have “fun,” but will we truly experience the deep joy that comes when we comprehend the essence and significance of the feast that we are celebrating?