Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Pandemic Lockdown and Lent

We all remember the pandemic lockdown on March 11, 2020. It was a surreal time. Never in my lifetime would I have thought to experience such a thing. The errieness of it all. The feel of a "The Walking Dead," "Fear The Walking Dead," or "Day/Dawn of the Dead" zombie apocalypse vibe was in the air.  Seeing the empty streets, and riding empty buses and subway cars was just mindboggling. The skies turning from an off-blue color to a vibrant sky blue with clean air in the Bronx was something unexpected.  

Just the silence in the Bronx, in NYC the "city that never sleeps" is a reflection in itself.  Again, never in my life have I ever experienced this. This change in ambiance scared many people. It literally felt like the end of times or a zombie apocalypse.  However, it also was a spiritual one as well. It aided me a lot in my spiritual and human growth despite Catholic Churches shutting down and all religions shutting down.  Watching Pope Francis' prayer at the Vatican all by himself with the miraculous cross and Our Lord in the Eucharist made many of us think deeply about our faith and why we only truly have God.     

The pandemic lockdown and Lent have created a unique intersection of circumstances, fostering both spiritual growth and challenges. The isolation, fasting, silence, and slowness of days during this time have led many to reflect on their faith and engage in practices that nourish their souls.

Lent, traditionally observed by Christians between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is often associated with repentance, fasting, and abstaining from certain pleasures. However, it's essential to recognize that Lent isn't solely about giving things up; it's also about taking things on. During this 40-day period, congregants reengage with their faith, returning to abandoned spiritual practices or cultivating new ones.

The 2020 pandemic lockdown and Lent have intersected in a unique way, creating an opportunity for spiritual growth. As we navigated Lent during the pandemic lockdown, we found ourselves in a season of prayer, sacrifice, and reflection. The isolation, fasting, and silence that characterize Lent have taken on new dimensions due to the pandemic's impact on our lives. We were all literally forced to be alone like Jesus in the desert. We were forced to set aside our tastes in food by not being able to dine out at restaurants or having limited access to supermarkets.  It was social Lent, if you will.  

In many ways, this Lent felt like Jesus' third fall on the road to Calvary. The weight of the pandemic has been heavy, and we've faced tremendous losses over the past two years. Yet, amidst this struggle, there is hope. COVID-19 cases are dropping in the U.S., and there's a sense of optimism as we approach Easter.

Mary DeTurris Poust, former communications director for the Diocese of Albany, New York, describes this moment as a "perfect storm." Lower coronavirus numbers coincide with Lent's arrival, providing an opportunity for a spiritual reset. It's a chance to recalculate our internal GPS—to reflect on where we're going individually and as communities of faith. For many Catholics, Lent's rituals—the "bells and smells"—are familiar and comforting. This season invites us to pull people back into the fold in meaningful ways.

Jen Sawyer, editor-in-chief of Busted Halo, observes that this is a Lent we're uniquely prepared for. We've sacrificed so much during these past two years, experiencing our own desert journey. Now, with exhaustion setting in, Lent offers new opportunities for peace, community, and faith. It's a time to find solace amidst uncertainty.

Paulist Father Larry Rice, campus chaplain for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, sees Lent as an antidote to the long-term trauma we've collectively endured. As Christians, we believe that our destination isn't Good Friday; it's Easter. This year's Lent carries additional hope—the possibility that by Easter, the pandemic will look different. Still, Father Rice reminds us that there are no guarantees; new coronavirus variants could emerge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for spiritual connection. As churches closed their doors and physical gatherings became impossible, people turned to alternative ways to maintain their faith. Here are some ways in which Lent has intersected with the pandemic:

1. Creative Adaptations: Churches worldwide have adapted creatively to minister to their congregations. Drive-through adoration, confession, live-streamed liturgies, and on-demand services have become common. These adaptations allow people to participate while maintaining social distancing.

2. Community Connection: Despite physical isolation, churches have found ways to foster community. Phone trees help check on vulnerable members of the parish, while initiatives like ringing church bells daily serve as reminders that people are not alone.

3. Spiritual Practices: Clergy emphasize two essential spiritual practices during confinement:

   - Spiritual Communion: A simple prayer expressing a deep desire to be in communion with Christ.

   - Perfect Act of Contrition: An examination of conscience, a desire for forgiveness, and an intention to confess when safe.

4. Lenten Challenges: Initiatives like the United Methodist Church’s Lent Photo-a-Day challenge encourage participants to post daily images illustrating themes related to Lent. These glimpses into each other’s lives offer respite from isolation and reinforce a sense of community.

5. Growth in Solitude: For some, the lockdown has transformed isolation into an opportunity for communal solitude. This solitude can be a seedbed for growth in holiness, communion, resistance, and renewal.

6. Reconnecting with Spirituality: Research shows that during crisis periods like the pandemic, people find solace by connecting or reconnecting with their spiritual beliefs and religious practices.

In summary, while the pandemic lockdown has brought challenges, it has also provided an opportunity for deeper spiritual reflection and growth during Lent. Whether through creative adaptations or personal practices, individuals continue to seek connection with God even amidst physical separation. Lent during the pandemic invites us to recalibrate our spiritual compasses—to find healing amidst loss and hope amidst uncertainty. The slowness of these days allows us to explore our faith more intentionally and discover deeper connections with God and one another. 

The lockdown helped to remind us of what we are told on Ash Wednesday. We are dust and to dust we shall return.  In response, we must repent and believe in the Gospel!  So many people died left and right. It felt never-ending. The lockdown reminded us of this and ironically during Lent of 2020.  We are finite creatures. We need to rely on God solely.  We are not in control of nature and its viruses, God is.  The pandemic lockdown and its silence helped us remember that we must stay still, calm down, and pray. 

While some claim they suffered psychologically from isolation, this is only because they lacked religion in their lives. They are mundane people who look to the mundane and not above.  Isolation when done correcting in terms of spirituality is extremely helpful just like in the case of fasting and abstinence.  Anything can cause harm if done incorrectly or if forced upon. That is a given, however, when done for God and correctly it can help the spiritual life immensely.

I may be in the minority to state that we should have "lockdowns" every year or a couple times a year for a good reason: human and spiritual growth.  Many workplaces and schools are allowing mental health days where students or employees take a day or two off to cool down and relax from the stresses of the job and school work.  It has been helpful to many.  Perhaps as a society, we need a lockdown here and there to stop, slow down, and mediate; to remind ourselves that we live for God and ourselves, not the social constructs of school, work, and social gatherings. 

In 2020, many Catholics were saying that "lent was lenting on," and they were correct!  That season of Lent was possibly the second most holy and spiritually nourishing Lent I have ever experienced.     

Let us embrace this unique season with open hearts and minds as we journey toward Easter.


References:

  1. American Psychological Association (APA):

  2. Statistics Canada:

  3. Wikipedia:

  4. Frontiers in Psychology:

  5. Spirituality for the Contemporary World:


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