Many have remarked that the COVID-19 pandemic has felt like a long Lent since the pandemic got fully underway, of course, in the United States in March 2020. Given the spiritual themes of Lent, this analogy is fitting, for we can see many of Lent’s themes present in our lives for the past year.
Lent is a time of penance, and certainly the last year has been full of opportunities to suffer. The challenge of the Christian is to unite these sufferings to the Lord, thereby finding meaning, strength and hope. As baptized Christians, we have been conformed to Christ crucified, and this pandemic has given us the opportunity to truly respond to that call. Lent is the opportunity the Church presents to us for taking stock of our own lives and how well we are living up to that call. And we do so as we journey alongside Christ, partaking in his suffering, on the way to Calvary.
Lent is also a time of purification. In many ways, this pandemic has served as a great purging. We have gone without a great deal of what we have known and loved to be commonplace — in an unexpected way. We have seen much less time spent with family and friends, even from receiving the Eucharist. Much, both good and bad, has been stripped away from us. Through it all, however, we are presented with an opportunity: to see how God is alive and active, even during a pandemic.
Lent is a time of fasting. Because of the pandemic and its effects, we have been forced into all kinds of fasting in the past year. We have fasted from friends and relations, vacations, and from celebrating birthdays and holidays. Church life and institutional structures have been diminished. Perhaps, most of all, we were forced to fast from celebrating the sacraments, attending Mass and regularly receiving the Eucharist. It’s up to us to seize upon God’s gratuitous grace so that these are moments of opportunity rather than occasions for despair. For God does not abandon his people.
Lent’s focus on preparation for baptism, or the renewal of our baptismal promises, shifts our focus to the purpose of our lives: to become saints. This is a call to daily follow Christ and make him the center of our lives. Our invitation to follow after Christ comes, after all, not as one of wealth, power, pleasure or honor. It is, rather, to take up our cross and follow him. And so, these times are ours. These times are for us. God calls us to share more fully in his life and to mirror it to the world through the crisis we face. Fortified by God’s grace and formed by his Word, we are called to respond to our circumstances as the saints have done.
For more, see “Finding Christ in the Crisis: What the Pandemic Can Teach Us” (OSV, $1.95) by Father Harrison Ayre and Michael R. Heinlein. Don’t miss the companion free study guide for Lent.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic.