Between Amens — To trust beyond our senses

Dr. Karen Shadle

March 15 was my last public Mass. A few hours earlier, I had seen newly dire guidelines from the CDC and a request from Archdiocesan leaders for a Monday morning meeting. The writing was on the wall, and I knew this would be it for a while.

The title of this column is “Between Amens,” and it is usually about how my everyday life connects to the church’s liturgy. At the moment, however, I don’t know how long the “between” will be. I had hoped that by now, almost a month later, we could be back to business. But instead, we continue to float in the in-between.

As we sit on the doorstep of the holiest time of year for Catholics — the sacred Triduum — the loss of our public celebrations hits the hardest.

I love these liturgies so much, in part, because of their sensory richness. I will miss the intoxicating smells of Chrism and incense, the striking image of a priest kneeling to wash another’s feet, the unique beauty of the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, the feel of embracing a rough cross on Good Friday, the warmth of the Easter fire cutting through the darkness and chill of an early spring night, the chants and music so emblematic of these holy feast days, and the sensation of catching a few drops of Holy Water on the skin at the sprinkling rite. I grieve for those special sights, sounds, touches, smells and tastes.

In his press briefings, President Trump often refers to the COVID-19 virus as the “invisible enemy.” As children of the natural world, we are taught to believe what we can observe empirically. To the naked eye, the virus is indeed unseen and can even be transmitted by those who have no symptoms, no noticeable signs of illness. Yet by now, we all know and believe that coronavirus is very real and present among us.

Invisible, too, is the anxiety and even panic that many of us feel. Both the virus itself and its psychological effects are invisible enemies, and the devil finds fertile ground there.

Perhaps while we sit in sensory deprivation, it is worth remembering that our Catholic faith often asks us to trust beyond our senses. Believing in the invisible is what we do. The Eucharist is just one example. We cannot rely on our senses to explain how it becomes Jesus, yet we know that it does. The grace of God is not measurable. The Holy Spirit cannot be seen under a microscope. If we are willing to uproot our lives for the invisible enemy, we must also be willing to devote our lives to the invisible cure.

I vividly remember receiving holy Communion on March 15. I remember the glow of the stained glass windows at dusk. I remember the minister who gave it to me, the song that was being sung, and even the taste and texture of the wafer. In this long in-between, while I wait to experience those sensations again, I am reflecting on that which is seen and that which is unseen. More often than not, the antidote to evil — whether worldly or spiritual — is unseen.

In the days ahead, may we be ever more aware of the invisible cures: human ingenuity, trust, kindness and hope in the Resurrection.

1 Comment

  • Mary McClure says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. In times of trouble I struggle to articulate my thoughts and have found great comfort in your words. As part of the Catholic community here in Meridian, Idaho, and as a Catholic teacher in Boise, I, too, have experienced a great loss, being unable to worship at our beautiful church, with our dynamic and vibrant congregation. I miss the fellowship, the greetings, the intimacy of communal prayer and worship. There is a growing need in me that can only be filled with the return to the rituals of our universal Catholic faith… rituals that I was part of in my youth with my family in Kilkenny, Ireland… rituals that I instilled in my children as we moved from state to state with my military husband. As I sit in front of my computer to be a remote part of mass and follow along with responses that are as old as the Methuselah himself I am comforted in the fact that this too shall pass, that God is here in our midst as he has always been, and that our faith will sustain us and bring us safely to the other side of this trial.
    Thank you, again for your inspirational words. You have given great comfort during these trying times

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