Today’s post is written by a guest contributor Jacquelyne Rocan. Jacquelyne has been a spiritual sister to me throughout the years and I am pleased to introduce you to her!
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and I find myself recalling this time last year. While there were certainly reports of the new coronavirus circulating in more and more communities, I celebrated Ash Wednesday in 2020 in many of the same ways that I have always marked that day — attending Mass, receiving ashes on my forehead, fasting, and setting in place plans for experiencing a holy and spiritual Lenten season. This included plans for additional prayers, readings, and attending Stations of the Cross. I marked times for all of the Holy Week services on my calendar — the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday service, and Easter Vigil Mass. It was important to me to fully participate and prepare by attending these services, as much as I could (especially through many years of serving on the RCIA team in my parish). My Lenten and Easter seasons have felt incomplete when I have been unable to prepare and attend the Easter Triduum services.
Of course, we now know, the many plans that we all had for 2020 came to a crashing halt in March when the scope and seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic became evident and closures and cancelations began in earnest. While I could still pray, fast, and practice charity while at home, many of the big markers of Lent and Easter were suddenly gone. Not being able to attend Mass and hear the rich and textured readings and experience the reception of our dear Lord in Holy Eucharist was difficult for me, and for so many Catholics. I worried that I was missing out on Lenten preparations and I would not be ready for Easter. My focus on what I did not have or could not do was overwhelming what I actually could do.
Then, two weeks into the pandemic closures, I received an email with a daily prayer from the Missionary Oblates which contained the following: “…PRAYER is not canceled, FAITH is not canceled, and HOPE is not canceled.” This statement was a game-changer for me. It helped me focus on what I could do, when isolated at home. I continued my daily prayers and readings, my Lenten readings, daily rosary, and a weekly Stations of the Cross at home with increased commitment. I was able to maintain a quiet, peaceful space to focus on Lenten preparations in anticipation of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. For the first time in my life, I felt my experience of Lent and Holy Week was aligned with the Blessed Mother and the apostles and disciples. Just like I have to live with the uncertainty of when and how the pandemic will end, I feel solidarity with the Blessed Mother and the apostles and disciples who did not know what would happen after Jesus suffered and died on what we now call Good Friday. They remained faithful and prayed through the uncertainty of those dark and difficult days and received the greatest blessing of the resurrected Christ. Their example allowed me to continue my Lenten preparations, even amid the uncertainty of the world around me.
I am with you always, to the very end of the age.Focus on His truth, Matthew 28:20
I will always remember this experience with gratitude and peace in my heart. In previous years, I would rush to make sure I was on time for Stations of the Cross and the Good Friday service, participating in RCIA retreats, and meeting with family and friends. While a beautiful and spiritual experience, I did not get to experience quiet and peace on this most solemn day. I spent Good Friday last year in quiet prayer and contemplation. I listened to Bishop Robert Barron and his beautiful talk on Jesus’ last seven words on the cross. I conducted a private Stations of the Cross. I watched Pope Francis conduct the Good Friday service from the Vatican, and also watched a special prayer service reverencing the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (with memories of the fire that almost took that building from us on April 15, 2019). Mostly, I focused on the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all us, including me, over 2,000 years ago, and the gift of mercy that he gave to us all that still resonates through the years to the present day. I felt closer to God in the silence and contemplation in a way that I had not experienced before.
This Lent, I pray that the quiet and contemplation of Good Friday 2020 will fill my heart and soul as I prepare for Easter. I have identified several resources to assist me in these preparations, including many of the resources listed here. Mostly, I plan to leave room for quiet prayer and reflection to focus and prepare for the great miracle of the Easter Resurrection. While I still do not know when or how the coronavirus pandemic will end and what our new “normal’ may look like, I know deep in my soul that Jesus died for all of us, that He has risen from the dead, and that He is with us always, until the end of the age. This reality fills my heart with joy, and peace, and love.
May we all be Smitten with Goodness during this season of Lent!
Jacquelyne Rocan is a life-long Catholic that enjoys continuing to learn and grow in the faith. She has a special devotion to St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she lived in a number of U.S. cities while growing up and is now happy to call Houston, Texas home. During the day, she practices law, and spends her free time reading good books, enjoying movies, drinking hot tea, and dreaming of when she can travel to Italy again.