As we all sit at home from the effects of the pandemic coronavirus, let us turn to Jesus Christ our Savior to help us “through the desert” during this time of Lent. Do not forget that we are still wandering and confused in these times of Lent as Moses and the Jews who were in the desert for 40 years and Jesus who was praying in the desert for 40 days. It is the time to take seriously our task of “spring cleaning” as we ask God for forgiveness and read the Gospel. In fact, we were told this on Ash Wednesday when we received ashes: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!”

For Catholics, the single most direct effect of the virus is the lifting of the Sunday obligation of attending Mass. Now it is an option to attend Mass as all other Church activities, except for funerals, weddings and baptisms, are canceled. So, what can we all do? First and foremost, we should implement seriously the three major practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and works of mercy into our daily lives as a family.

Now is the perfect time for all members of the family to join in prayer at home together. Pick a suitable place and time to pray the rosary, for example. Some of my parishioners who are members of the Divine Mercy prayer group pray the rosary weekly at one’s home at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I have asked the same question that you are thinking -- Is the Blessed Virgin Mary awake at that hour? However, now they will continue to pray the rosary as each family gathers at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings to pray the rosary together by telephone.

Blessed are those who attend Mass but safely and cautiously. If the family opts to not attend Mass on Sundays, there are an abundance of Masses on television daily and of course on Sundays. This is the time now to receive “spiritual communion” if one does not attend Mass. This is the participation of one at the Mass with the Eucharist for those who cannot receive communion. The following prayer can be prayed for one who cannot receive the Eucharist:

“My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Holy Sacrament, I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”

If the family does not attend Mass, one of the family members may reecite the readings for Sunday aloud. Then, the family can have a holy discussion about what the readings say to them and their hearts.

In addition, this might be a wonderful time to watch television together and view such wonderful films as “Jesus of Nazareth.” The family could watch it together and then discuss their reaction to the film and how it has bolstered their belief and faith in God. In addition, this is a great time for the family to sit together and speak to each other and of course, about God.

During this holy time of Lent, one is asked to fast. We can do it as prescribed by the Church as Ash Wednesday and all of the Fridays in Lent including Good Friday, but we can choose other days to fast. In fact, fasting can been seen as a secondary measure as saving up food for the difficult days ahead. Of course, we can abstain from meats not just on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent including Good Friday but on other chosen days.

Now is a great time to help those in need in order to perform works of charity. We can help neighbors who might be elderly by going to the store for them and placing the groceries at their doorstep since elderly persons are often very vulnerable and isolated -- especially during this pandemic. The coronavirus seems to strike disproportionately at the elderly. Pope Francis has called for greater respect for the elderly in society and in the Church. He called neglect of the elderly a “sin.” He has affirmed that “where the elderly are not honored, there is no future for the young.”

During this time of Lent as Jesus suffered, we too are feeling the effects of this terrible disease. This evil and suffering can now become redemptive for each one of us and the community if we unite our pains and agonies to Christ. Rather than seeing suffering in a complete and negative way, the example and words of Christ show us a positive way in which suffering can be seen and accepted in human life. Suffering is a share in the work of the Redeemer. The effects that have robbed us of peace, security and tranquility are now means in which we can share such spiritual gifts as compassion, wisdom, hope, thanksgiving and love. In a way the work of Jesus Christ allows surprisingly good things to come from even the worst and most fearful of evils.

Of course, we end with a wonderful prayer by Pope Francis for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary at this time of great need:

“O Mary, you always shine on our path as a sign of salvation and hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm. You, Salvation of People, know what we need, and we are sure you will provide so that, as in Cana of Galilee, we may return to joy and to feasting after this time of trial. Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform to the will of the Father and to do as we are told by Jesus, who has taken upon himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows to lead us, through the cross to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.

“Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.”

The Rev. Gus Puleo is pastor of St. Patrick Church in Norristown and served as an adjunct professor of Spanish at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a graduate of Norristown High School and attended Georgetown University, where he received B.A. and B.S. in Spanish and linguistics. He has master’s degrees in Spanish, linguistics and divinity from Middlebury College, Georgetown University and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Pennsylvania.

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