January 10, 2020

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

Finding the touch of God and humanity amid the coronavirus crisis

John ShaughnessyThe surprising discovery was the highlight of my day—even far better than if I had walked into a grocery store and found everything on my list. 

The moment came during my first day of working at home, when I just randomly decided to check Facebook at lunchtime and found the smiling image of Father Rick Nagel behind the altar of St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. 

Clicking on the “play” button, I heard my friend—the pastor of St. John—share that he was offering daily Mass on video during a time when all public Masses in the archdiocese have been suspended indefinitely. He also shared that he was smiling because he was imagining all the smiling faces of the usual people who attended the daily 12:10 p.m. Mass at his church. 

For the next 26-plus minutes, I couldn’t stop smiling either as I savored the Mass with Father Rick, even sharing a virtual sign of peace with him. It didn’t even matter that through some technical malfunction that Father Rick appeared on my Facebook screen sideways. In a world that has gone sideways with the fear, the uncertainty and the tragedy of the coronavirus, it just mattered that a friend and God were there with me. 

The surprises of that day didn’t end there. 

Early that morning, I had been in a grocery store, avoiding close contact with people as much as I could, when I found myself blocked by the cart of a young woman who suddenly stopped to talk to a clerk who was using a stool to re-stock canned goods on a top shelf. 

She asked how he was doing, and how people were reacting during these days of hoarding shopping. He told her he had been yelled at many times. For the next few minutes, she engaged him in conversation and thanked him for everything he was doing. Her kindness and their shared humanity were the best things I took home from the store. 

The joys continued throughout the day. 

A real estate agent sent an e-mail message saying he was driving around that day and if I needed him to pick up anything for me, he would be happy to do it. 

There was also a text from a young friend in Texas whose first child was born in early March. Worried about the world his daughter had just entered, he had texted me a day earlier, noting, “I find it hard to be praying right now with the distractions of this virus. Entrusting the world to the care of Our Lady.” 

The next morning, refreshed by a night of good sleep for him, his wife and his daughter, he texted me again, saying that the one thing he was sure of—the one enduring gift he could give his daughter—was his faith in God.    

Not all my exchanges that day were marked by joy. 

A college friend sent a text expressing his concern for my wife, a nurse who works in a hospital. He also mentioned he felt good to still be working, but his job in the trucking business puts him in contact with drivers from across the country, and “social distancing” wasn’t always possible. “It’s scary,” he said. 

And the last text of the day came from a friend asking for prayers for his elderly mother who was experiencing health concerns while she was stranded in another country because of the coronavirus. The prayers began immediately. 

As I looked back on the joys and heartaches of that day, I found myself focusing again on two thoughts from my book, Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God. 

“In many ways, God makes his goodness and grace known in the world through our friendships. Our closest friends welcome us, lift us and accept us as who we are, with all our faults and limitations. They stand by us when we reach the edges of life, love and faith. 

“God takes this gift of friendship to an even higher level. He offers his friendship to each of us, and he offers it unconditionally. No matter what, God accepts us with all his mercy and love. He’s always there for us, even in our darkest times.” 

In these dark times, when we may reach the edges of life, love and faith, let’s keep close to God, knowing he’s always close to us. And let’s keep each other close, with whatever light we can give.

(John Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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