By Sister Jean Ann McGrath
At the parish school where I worked, we had a long standing tradition each Ash Wednesday. As part of our prayer service, we symbolically “boxed up” the word “Alleluia” as a way to tell the children that the next forty days are a special time in the church year and that they would not be hearing that word until it is joyously proclaimed at Easter. As I think about this blog, I am wondering how we will unwrap the Alleluia this year.
If you, like me, are spending hours scanning various screens during our imposed isolation, you are probably experiencing a surreal world. One of the most difficult things for me has been trying to balance scenes of overcrowded emergency rooms and the daily announcement of mounting casualties with the amazing tales of heroism, creative ways to stay connected with friends and families, virtual concerts, and inspiring messages of hope from around the world. Trying to balance both is in itself a challenge to my mind, my heart, and my desire to be a person of deeper faith and trust.
This blog will be posted right before Holy Thursday, the beginning of a Triduum time which none of us could have imagined and that most of us will be celebrating very differently this year. We will not be at mass together. We will not be witnessing the ancient rite of the washing of feet, the reading of the passion narrative, the lighting of the Easter Fire. We will not be having Easter egg hunts, lavish Easter brunches, or spring vacations to sunny and warm places across the country.
But will we be able to unwrap the Alleluia?
What will we do to ensure that we can shout the Easter Alleluia even if it is from our front porch or on our computer screen?
As we approach the holiest time of the Church year, I am challenging myself and you to make sure the Alleluia rings across our world, our neighborhood and in the confines of the homes in which we are literally confined.
I am going to start with prayer; prayer for those who have contracted the virus and for those who love them. (A friend of mine, the mother of nine and grandmother of 27 has the virus and is totally quarantined from them. Her isolation is more painful than the horrific cough that has lingered for weeks.) I am going to pray for the first responders, those doctors and nurses who literally put their lives on the line every time they report for a new shift. I am going to pray for the President and his staff. Although we may have vastly different political views and I wonder “why” and “if only”, the challenges they face are enormous. I pray that the difficult decisions they need to make each day will be informed not only by scientific data but also by deep wisdom and heartfelt compassion.
I am challenging myself to be less frightened and more faith-filled during these Triduum days. Discouragement is itself a contagious virus but I am encouraged by the words of a journalist whom I deeply respect: “the only thing that spreads faster than this virus is hope.” If you look, you will see hope everywhere.
Finally, I am going to find small concrete things I can do from my isolation booth (my apartment). Maybe make an Easter basket for the nurse across the street? Maybe make phone calls to seniors in the parish whom I know will be alone on Easter Sunday. Maybe a gift card for the girl who cuts my hair who will be out of work for another six weeks…. The alleluia opportunities are endless.
There will be no Easter liturgy in our parish this year to unwrap the Alleluia, but it will be unwrapped and will be an anthem to sustain us well beyond the recently extended days of social isolation. It will be the heartfelt hope that unites us even if we must stay six feet or six thousand miles apart. It will be the promise of new life in Spring, in Easter, and in all of us.
And so, (a few days in advance) ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA
About the Author
After years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!