Fr. Frank McDevitt is pastor of Our Lady of Grace in Aurora, Ont.
Jonah goes to Nineveh in search of converts and Jesus goes to Galilee in search of disciples.
And here we are locked-down with a stay at home order.
Jonah goes in search of fertile ground and finds it; Jesus goes in search of fertile ground and finds it.
With all of our limitations, we are the fertile ground of faith in this time of COVID. The freedom and mobility of Jonah and Jesus is not our lot at this time. But this is a golden time to accept Jesus’s invitation to follow by reflecting on our life of prayer.
I would like to suggest three ways that we can till the fertile ground in which prayer grows.
The first is solitude. This difficult time is also an extraordinary time. If you are alone you may feel the solitude in profound and not always positive ways. If you are with family, young or old, you may not be able to embrace individual solitude – but you can embrace the solitude of your household. Us who gather at this table, us alone. This is a time to examine that and to contemplate your household, your holy family. Solitude is always about our life in the world, not about life outside the world.
That contemplation may extend to the animals that are part of our households. Hopefully, the contemplation, whether you live alone or in a busy household, should lead to thanksgiving. If it does not lead to thanksgiving then that is a source of reflection in itself. Thanksgiving is the beginning of prayer.
Secondly, this is a great time to meet the quiet. There certainly will be those out there who will roll their eyes a bit and say that quiet is a limited commodity in their house. I can well imagine in some households it is. If it is because there is a house full of kids then quiet just may not be on the horizon, but if there is no quiet in your house because CNN is on sixteen hours a day, then it is time to meet the quiet. To let the quiet dig deep furrows into our lives, and turn over the soil and prepare it for planting. All of those gardeners and anyone who has a history in farming know the smell of turned soil, they remember its texture and colour. They are familiar with its promise. Quiet is a place where we meet the promise of prayer.
Thirdly, this is a time for study. To till the soil of faith if we wish to plant well. Social trends tells us this time has led to an increase in studying genealogy, in baking, in gardening and in fostering pets. People confess they are sure they have watched everything on Netflix. Is there a better time to explore faith? Open a book or the Bible or head to the internet.
The internet and religion demands caution, though. One of the things I have come to realize over the years is that there are those for whom religion is a hobby. I am not talking about those who are lackadaisical in their practice, rather those for whom religion is about constant controversy.
In the time of Moses, he cautioned the people against false prophets. If you wander onto the internet, you will find those who see themselves as religious cultural warriors. Avoid them, they will not foster deeper connections with Christ. They will foster deeper connections with controversy. Any website that refers to the Holy Father by his surname, Bergolio, shake the dust from your feet. There are endless good things that can be found online. A simple suggestion would be to look for the spirituality of Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans or Carmelites or any other great religious movement in the Church. Every diocese offers spiritual content or will direct you to it. By all means use the internet, but always ask: is this building me up or is it tearing me down?
We find ourselves in this particular moment when we seem to have so much time on our hands. Where does solitude, silence and study that I suggest lead? Hopefully it leads to prayer, the ultimate creator of fertile ground. So in this time of COVID, trace your family tree, plan the year of gardening ahead and take your dog for a walk – and listen closely in your life for the invitation to follow. It is there and it calls us forward.
This reflection is based on the readings from the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B: Jonah 3.1-5, 10; Psalm 25; 1 Corinthians 7.29-31; and Mark 1.14-20.