Life as we’ve come to know it has changed, whether for the better and for how long, only time will tell. The American people, their social structures and activities, have become victims of a deadly enemy called COVID-19. Retail outlets, small businesses, major corporations, professional sports, the media, entertainment industry, and political class have all, for the most part, succumbed to this unrelenting invading force.
There is one other institution, however, that has fallen victim to this accursed enemy, and that perhaps has a far greater prohibitive impact on the people, I speak of religion. Houses of worship have had to close their doors to the faithful, and discontinue religious services. Modernity has created a new dynamic for the worshiper, hopefully for the short term, in the form of live stream broadcasting online of religious services, taking the place of houses of worship. It’s not the same; however, it will have to do, but the people are saddened by the absence of the solemnity of the service, and the gathering with their fellow congregants, and the surroundings and spiritual aspect that are diminished.
Although services have been placed on hold, the doors of many houses of worship have remained open for the faithful, if only for a limited time during the day. That is where I found myself recently on Easter Eve Saturday. The church was empty and the silence was palpable. I began by lighting a couple of votive candles, symbolic of the intentions one prays for, and then knelt alone at the altar before the tabernacle where the Eucharist resides, and prayed for the safety, health, and deliverance of family, the American people, and peoples the world over from this evil enemy we face.
Off in the distance was the life-size representation of the crucified Christ. I sat down in a pew and read from the Gospel, Acts of the Apostles, of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, “And the angel said to the women, do not be afraid, I know you are seeking Jesus the crucified; He is not here, for He has been raised, just as He said,” and through His suffering and death on the cross He saved the world. Upon finishing the reading, I looked up and was saddened at the still empty pews around me, and the solitude of what only weeks ago was a happy and reverent gathering of the faithful. I visualized the priest at the altar reciting the benedictions, and the congregation responding.
Alone, and in the quietude I listened hoping perhaps, through some divine intervention, I might hear the sounds of the organ playing as its pipes produced a variety of timbres that spoke to the people who would raise their voices in a chant to the hymnal repertoire. I focused and willed those voices to return, but again there was only silence, save for the blare of sirens outside the walls of the church, not unusual in a big city, but only now of greater significance and meaning for what they represent. I became even more mindful of the magnitude of what this plague has brought about, the desperation, and for many the hopelessness that it has inflicted on peoples throughout the world.
As I rose to leave, the sun was setting and its rays illuminated the awe-inspiring stain glass windows that depict events in the lives of Christ and the Saints; their vibrant colors filled the church. The great dome that stands atop this house of God, also stained glass, cast its colors down on the main altar. The dome is illuminated at night from within for all to see for miles around like a beacon steering the faithful to salvation, and refuge within its walls.
It was then that I felt certain calm and was hopeful that things would get better, especially on the eve of this joyous of holy days. In that moment, I was reminded of a verse from a poem: “You’re not alone as you go through life, /and of the things you say and do, / never doubt or feel forsaken, / for I am always there beside you.”