THIS SPRING I HAD MY FIRST MID-MARCH “LAST DAY OF SCHOOL,” my first month of no reason to even look at my calendar, and my first Easter Vigil Mass with fewer than 10 people. I never could have guessed just how out of the ordinary 2020 would be.
The teaching profession has been flipped upside down. But from the start, I met the distance learning challenge with eager positivity. This time of year can be hard with all of the spring activities, the desire to be outside and the pressure to fit in content before the end of the year.
All of a sudden, my calendar was completely clear. I miss my students. Teaching in person would be so much richer. But I think the need to adopt a new approach so quickly has made us better teachers. The profession will never be the same. We’ve learned so much, we have no choice but to apply the knowledge and skills moving forward.
The way church works has turned around, too. On March 17, when public Masses were suspended, I went live on Facebook for the first time — to make daily Mass available on the parish page. For those open to it, our parish has been vibrant in this time. Our priest, Father Jeremy Theis, livestreams daily Mass on YouTube, makes confession safely available often and has developed parking lot adoration. I’m sure passers-by wondered what was going on when they saw the drive-in style lot facing the large glass doors of the church.
Yes, breakfasts couldn’t happen, important sacramental celebrations are postponed and our largest annual fundraiser was canceled. But I know that more people have “attended” daily Mass and participated in various forms of prayer thanks to YouTube and Facebook than would have if we had carried on as normal.
Because I assist with the livestreams, I have been able to attend Mass regularly. But I know this separation from Mass has been difficult. People want to be close to Jesus and to their church communities. Television and online Masses and prayers are always available, but we’ve seen priests from all over offering ways to connect.
Our parish’s Facebook following has tripled in the last three months. I hope the level of activity and engagement continues to climb. Perhaps this time has exposed people to worshiping, connecting and studying in ways they hadn’t thought of or attempted before. Attending Sunday Mass can sometimes feel like a box to check off — once it’s done, the Sabbath is observed and one can move on with life. But, in this time, I hope that watching Mass on a screen hasn’t been enough. The supply of resources — books, websites, podcasts, videos, conferences — has been opened to a new audience.
This out-of-the-ordinary period has reminded me that time is easily wasted. I’ve had no choice but to account for my time. I have no one to blame but myself if I let the whole day go by without devoting a piece to God.
This sense of freedom in a clear calendar has made me examine deeply how I filled my time. I need to look and act with great intention at the activities in which I participate and the capacities in which I serve. Am I truly serving in the way God is calling, or tricking myself into thinking so because my calendar is full?
As we go forward from Pentecost into Ordinary Time, we’ve been commissioned, we have the Holy Spirit with us. As our calendars eventually fill back up, let’s add God first and let the other stuff move in around him.
This time apart from others helps us see where we fall short. Perhaps we can see that in this time that felt like separation, God was teaching us how to find him at home or wherever we are. Sometimes, we have no one to rely on but him.
We will be able to gather again, but let’s not lose the sense of wonder at being in the presence of Jesus, checking on our neighbors, the desire to share what we have with others, the joy of participating in the Mass whenever we want and the appreciation for empty space on our calendar that will be best filled with what God wants to schedule.
CHANTELLE FRIE is a lifelong member of St Mary Parish in Upsala where she has been involved in the religious education program for over 12 years. She is a public high school English teacher and works with the confirmation program for the 238 Catholic parish cluster, which includes the parishes of Upsala, Elmdale and St. Francis.