CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
It’s all too easy to feel cooped up these days – both in body and soul. Since it’s impossible to know how long we will be in this state of spiritual and physical “social distancing,” it takes a little creativity when it comes to maintaining both our health and our relationship with the Lord.
We’ve consulted a few experts — Fr. Chuck Wrobel, associate pastor at the Catholic Community of Waukesha; Fr. Robert Weighner, pastor at St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie; and Dr. Kathrynn Fee, a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin practicing in Oak Creek — for some ideas on how to stay healthy, spiritually and physically, during this crisis.
On the spiritual side: Embrace your Eucharistic hunger
Not being able to receive the Body and Blood is a tragedy, however necessary — but the God who was brutally crucified only to conquer death and sin shows us time and time again that he can and will bring forth beauty from darkness.
He will do the same this time, said Fr. Wrobel, if we invite him to. This time of literal Eucharistic fasting can be a catalyst for a greater devotion to Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
“First, acknowledge that that hunger is there. Don’t dismiss it, and don’t go into a depressive type of disposition,” said Fr. Wrobel. “It’s Lent, and Lent is a season of depriving. But we don’t deprive ourselves just for the pain of deprivation. We do it so we can unite our suffering with God.”
These times of great difficulty and uncertainty, said Fr. Weighner, reveal our need to rely on Christ. But they also reveal our flaws — something that is actually “a great gift,” he said.
“It makes us pause and reflect, and even desire the sacraments in a more profound way,” he said. “Marriage, reconciliation and the Eucharist: these are all ways for us to reground ourselves in difficult times.”
Fr. Wrobel points out there are people around the world who routinely go long periods of time without the Eucharist. Embracing a spirit of solidarity with these Catholics can help us during this time.
“Our sister parish in the Dominican Republic does not have priests going to those villages every week. It’s more like once a month,” he said. “But they are still very strong in their community.”
“We may not realize it, but in a way, times of stress and upheaval can bring about much good in our interior — bringing about a greater faith in God — making our roots even stronger,” said Fr. Weighner.
On the physical side: Embrace a routine grounded in healthy choices
Whether or not we know and love someone who is ill with the virus, this microscopic infectious agent has thrown a wrench in every part of our lives, from grocery shopping to Sunday worship.
“COVID-19 has obviously been a major disruptor to our normal way of life,” said Dr. Fee, who is a parishioner at St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove. “It’s really important to maintain a routine, even though it is likely not your normal one.”
All the things that were important before, explained Dr. Fee, continue to be important now: eating healthy, exercising regularly, and maintaining social relationships.
If you can, intermix elements of these pillars of a healthy life. Dr. Fee recommends trying out a healthy new recipe, sorting through your cupboards to use ingredients you have forgotten about. “Go on a jog, walk your dog, or go on a bike ride with your kids,” she said. “It’s safe to be outside around your home and neighborhood as long as you are maintaining a safe social distance and not touching things like public playgrounds.”
On the spiritual side: Make your newfound free time count
Have you ever resolved to pray more, read the Bible more, or finally download some of those spiritual apps to your iPhone — if you just had the time? Chances are, even if you’ve only eliminated your morning and evening commute, you’ve got a bit more time on your hands these days. Use it wisely.
Most parishes are rolling out an impressive agenda of digital content to keep the faithful engaged during this period. Fr. Weighner’s parish is, among many other initiatives, offering a daily Rosary on Facebook so parishioners can continue to pray together; he is also recording and sending out the audio of his Sunday homily, along with Sunday readings. Fr. Wrobel’s parishes are making Sunday Mass available online to their parishioners in both Spanish and English, a ministry which has been enthusiastically received.
Several other priests, including Fr. Paul Hartmann of St. Eugene and St. Monica parishes, are even streaming daily Mass live on Facebook.
Fr. Wrobel also recommends, for those who live with others in their household, rediscovering the power of communal prayer.
“Sit down and say, what do we want to pray for today? Let people voice whatever that is,” he said. “Collect those prayers within the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Our Father. And doing that in the community of your own family is something I think we’ve missed a lot because we’ve been running around doing other things.”
On the physical side: Make your screen time count
It’s not necessarily realistic for parents who are working from home or dealing with cooped-up kids to maintain the ideal limits on screen time, Dr. Fee admitted.
“Having your kids home all day can feel very overwhelming,” she said. “I will admit my kids have had far more screen time than usual, but I think we have to recognize that these are not ‘usual times.’ We are in survival mode right now, and if that means spending a little extra time on electronics, so be it.”
But the good news is, you can sneak a lot of great stuff into their brains via those smartphones, iPads and Kindle Fires. “Many museums have posted virtual tours, zoos are streaming interactions with their animals, and online resources like Audible and Scholastic are providing free access for families while this outbreak goes on,” said Dr. Fee.