By Hudson Byblow for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy Family and Life Office
When this COVID-19 thing really hit Canada, a friend of mine lamented the fact that she was no longer able to go to Mass in person. I understood her frustration, because I too love attending Mass/Divine Liturgy, and find myself somewhat lost without it. Many others feel that way as well.
In this article, my focus is to bring to the surface some bigger questions, such as:
Have Catholics lived without Mass/Divine Liturgy before? The answer is yes. Many times, throughout the last 2000 years, Catholics have not only existed but have also survived and thrived without the Sacraments being available to them in public. If the people in prior times could keep the faith, then we should be able to as well.
Does being deprived of the Holy Eucharist mean we will falter in our Catholic faith? The answer is no. Well, it can be no, if we approach it correctly. Here is why: First, Jesus is not bound to the Holy Eucharist, therefore the Holy Eucharist need not be our only encounter with Jesus. That is not to say that if we could receive Him in that way, we should ignore it in place of receiving Him other ways. Second, in any situation, the disposition of our hearts (and whether we are in a state of grace) will impact the nature of the encounter we have with Christ. Third, if we can skip the Holy Eucharist from daily Mass/Divine Liturgy without thinking about becoming less nourished, then should also be able to conceive of the idea that, given a proper disposition of heart, we won’t need to worry about becoming less nourished if we are forced to skip more than one (or many more Masses/Divine Liturgies).
To what degree do things depend on the disposition of our hearts? If we truly desire in our hearts to be unified with Jesus Christ, then we will be able to weather these days without Mass /Divine Liturgy and without access to the Holy Eucharist (and sometimes other Sacraments), no matter how long this period turns out to be. The desire in our hearts indeed needs to be nourished, but it is best nourished in and through our cooperation with God’s grace. That is, it must be nourished by our “Yes” to choosing to focus on things that will provide that nourishment (or at least not erode it). What we place before ourselves in our daily lives contributes to that nourishment in one way or another. In this way, we can think about with new eyes about whether we are truly striving to worship God or whether we are backsliding into worshiping mammon, because what we truly worship will be what we choose to feed upon. (Mammon is sometimes referred to as the ‘spirit of the world’ – we do this when we worship or put the acquisition of things before God.) If, however, our desire to become further unified with God is lacking, or if we nourish an appetite for mammon, then the inevitability is that a continuation of missing the Holy Eucharist would likely have a far different outcome. It could lead a person to become conditioned to a to a life without it, settling for something lesser than God, and being okay with that, as in, being okay with that “lesser focus” being their greatest focus. In such a case, a person would eventually come to not even miss it.
Our Tomorrow Will Reflect Our Today
Given that humans tend to continue along the trajectories that they are already on (barring some life-impacting circumstance), it follows that in order to gain a sense of what might happen within our hearts down the road, we ought to have a look at what is going on within our hearts today.
This is especially pertinent in the case of the COVID-19 situation, for this situation could be prolonged for a time that is greater than what we might anticipate. Further, it is more urgent to consider this now as opposed to later because as times goes on, the amount of people who will experience a waning in their desire to turn to Jesus will increase, due to being conditioning within a “new reality” without the “routine” of regularly attending Mass/ Divine Liturgy in person.
The fact is that it is in precisely this moment that we have the opportunity to ask ourselves this: “Do we love Jesus enough today that our desire for Him will increase tomorrow?” and this: “Will absence (of the Holy Eucharist in our lives) make our hearts grow fonder?”
Well, the answer to both of those questions is that it depends… on us. We alone are responsible for opening or closing our hearts to Jesus, and for fostering a deepening desire for Him. Sure, others can warm us up to Him (or turn us towards rejection of Him), but it is up to us to open our hearts. No one can do that for us. And regardless if public celebrations of church services are cancelled, that truth will not change.
If we strive for that openness, then being deprived of the Holy Eucharist for some time will not cause us to be undernourished, but quite the opposite – it will shed from us the distractions of our excesses such that we become more and more focused on our heart’s one desire, Jesus Christ. That deepening desire for Jesus will be enough for God to provide us with all the nourishment we need, while we wait in anticipation of the hopeful eventuality that we will be able to receive Him in the Holy Eucharist once more.
Lord, awaken our hunger and thirst for you. Help us to not try and to seek the fulfillment of our deepest desires with things that will never satisfy!
Hudson Byblow is an author, speaker, and consultant, as well as a professional educator.