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The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of life for millions of people around the world. It’s tempting to panic or start to wonder where God’s plan is in all of this.

I saw a comment on Facebook about remembering what season we’re in right now: Lent. Where are we supposed to be during Lent? In the desert. And oh man does it feel like the desert this week.

I can’t think of a situation that feels more like the desert than to be away from Mass. 

Social distancing is an absolutely necessary step for all people to take right now so that we have the best chance of overcoming this pandemic with as few deaths as possible. But even knowing its necessity doesn’t make it easy.

I chose to watch the noon livestreamed Mass with Archbishop Vigneron at the Cathedral last Sunday. At first, it was difficult to focus on the livestream because I was in such a different environment (my kitchen) than I’m obviously used to for Mass. I was definitely feeling the distance and wondered how I was going to keep this up for several weeks.

But as Mass went on and I continued trying to shut out the distractions, I started to realize that the physical distance didn’t need to have a negative effect on my ability to pray with Archbishop and the 1400 people who had joined the livestream on Facebook.

Actually, I was amazed at the number of people who could join together and pray in this way.

Even though I’ve worked in digital media for my entire career, I’ve never bought into the idea that digital connection is the true equal of in-person relationships. And livestreamed Mass is certainly not a replacement for gathering as a community to receive the Eucharist.

But I realized that although I was physically distant from the cathedral and from all the other people tuned in online, we were in spiritual communion as we prayed together. Being socially distanced actually presented a deeper and more meaningful invitation to spiritual closeness.

The physical distance didn’t need to have a negative effect on my ability to pray

This realization was emphasized when Archbishop Vigneron invited everyone to renew our commitment to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our protector during this time. To be quite honest, I was moved to tears as he led us in reciting the Memorare together. It was one of the most spiritually intimate moments I’ve felt with the Blessed Mother in my life, and it was beautiful.

On top of general anxiety about coronavirus, I have an immediate family member who is older than 60 and is an immunocompromised person. As the warnings about the seriousness of this pandemic become more severe, it’s hard to not fear the worst.

I can’t be with her all the time. I can’t force her to stay home from the grocery store. I can’t keep her safe. But I can pray the Memorare every day and put everything into God’s hands through Mary’s intercession.

I can ask the Holy Spirit to be in my heart. I can ask Mary to take my mom into her care. I can trust that God will never abandon us, even as we are separated from public Mass.

To comfort me in this time of distress, a friend sent me a bible verse: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

This is spiritual closeness. We are in the desert — a barren place. But in the desert we are able to draw closer to God than ever before. And as we are asked to distance ourselves from the world for the sake of keeping as many people healthy as possible, in this isolation we can hear and answer God’s call to draw near.

 Let us use this difficult time of social distance and worldwide pandemic to grow in spiritual closeness as individuals, families, and a global faith community.