Exodus 90 - Day 70
As you may have heard, the state of Illinois issued a “shelter-in-place” order for all residents effective March 21st. We are to stay at home unless it’s for essential travel – food, medicine, fuel. Writing it out like that makes it sound much more apocalyptic than it has felt. I picked up deep dish pizza less than an hour after the order went into effect (like I said, essential travel) and had a movie night with some of the priests still living here at the seminary. Except for the much lighter traffic, the evening wasn’t much different than a typical Saturday.
But the week prior has been full of reminders of how much life has changed as we use what little tools we have to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The number of web conferences I would have on an average week before the outbreak was significantly lower than 1. I’ve had three in the last six days. Even my meeting with my Exodus 90 brothers saw half the guys calling in – and that was even before the shelter-in-place went into effect. The emptiness of the seminary usually comes during the summer months, when students and professors alike are out of class. But I’m still here, and classes start up again soon, and yet the students are scattered back to their home dioceses. My social circle has shrunk to the dozen or so faculty and staff members still here, a far cry from the bustling school of 200 that lived and worked here two weeks ago.
All these daily reminders can start to wear on a person. For that reason, I’m more grateful for Exodus 90 now more than ever. I know that can sound crazy. One of my priest-friends called me and during our conversation asked me if I was still going to finish out the program. “Surely the whole thing must be called off by now?” he said. For one, I told him, we have just about three weeks left to go. We’re so close I don’t want to give up now! For another, I think the discipline of these ninety days of asceticism, fraternity, and prayer have given me something I needed for this exact moment. I don’t know how I would have handled the news of the pandemic if I wasn’t going through Exodus 90. Maybe I would have handled it fine. That’s not how things have shaken out, though. I wound up being part of this program this year, in this time. I had no idea this was coming when I started.
But God did.
The Father knows me better than I know me. He knew that I needed this intentional time in order to do the work I am called to do. Most other folks don’t need the kind of extra push a program like Exodus 90 gives you. But I’ve always been a special case. I’ve always been too tempted to do things myself, to make things perfect, to have the right answer all the time. In the face of this outbreak, though, there is no right answer, no perfect solution, nothing I can do to influence the course of global events. There was a time when that kind of anxiety would have sent me into a tailspin, distracting me from the work right in front of my nose that I do have control over. In this case, the formation of the future priests of the Catholic Church demands my full attention. God knew He was going to have to strip me of my attachment to a lot of other comforts – TV, YouTube, and video games especially – to make sure that I wouldn’t retreat and hide in those things when things got crazy. I’ve had to reinvent my entire semester, rewrite lesson plans, come up with alternative assignments, and think through how to teach in an entire online environment – all in one week. I have gone to bed exhausted every single day because I am using all my brainpower just to do one thing at a time as I work to change my courses midstream. I can remember a time, not long ago, when that kind of project would have paralyzed me into procrastination. I would have put it off constantly out of fear that I would mess something up. Far easier to not start at all and lose myself in some kind of distraction (saving the Star Wars galaxy being my usual go-to).
Because of Exodus 90, however, I couldn’t go to my usual distractions. I wasn’t able to let two, three, four hours get eaten up by my old favorite pastimes. Because of that, I had freedom to respond to the challenge, to do the work I knew I had to do in order to be true to my calling as a priest. By the grace of God, I was able to squarely face the problem at hand, break it down into its constitutive parts, and work through all the details so that after four days of solid work, I was ready. Now, I don’t know if my plan will actually succeed pedagogically speaking. But at least I have a plan to execute now. Without the disciplines of the program, that plan would have come together and the work would have gotten done. But it would not have been pretty, let me tell you. There would have been far more late nights, far more battles with perfectionism, and far more hours logged on my Playstation.
If you had asked me three weeks ago, at the halfway point of these ninety days, what fruits I was seeing from all this prayer and asceticism, I would have given you all kinds of correct answers but my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I was ambivalent about whether I had made any spiritual growth during this time. All it took was a global pandemic to show me just how much God has done for me during this time, and how much more I can in turn do for God as a result. Who knows? Maybe it was for this moment of outbreak and quarantine that God called me to go on Exodus 90.
I’ve also been keenly aware of the gift of my priesthood in this past week. Every time I celebrate Mass, I offer up all the desires of those who cannot receive the Eucharist because of cancellations and parish closures across the country. I hate saying Mass by myself. The whole liturgical action feels hollow without the People of God gathered in prayer around the altar to receive the gift of the Word made flesh in Scripture and sacrament. In these days, therefore, I consciously call to mind the communion that is ours in the Holy Spirit, who is
the firstfruits of our inheritance of all the good things stored up for us in Christ Jesus. Please know in my Masses this week I will be remembering all the readers of this blog in my intentions at Mass. I will be praying for your health and safety, as well as the health and safety of all your loved ones. I will pray that we will all be united in common celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist soon, in order to give thanks to God for delivering us from the terrible damage this outbreak could have done had we not responded prudently.
Please pray for all the members of my Exodus 90 fraternity. I suspect this week’s meeting we will all be calling in remotely and will be in need of mutual support and encouragement. I hope you have a support network of your own to rely on. Make a phone call today if you haven’t talked to anyone lately. Reach out to check in with people you love in order to let them know that they are not alone in this time. Be a manifestation of the unfailing love of the Trinity, the perfect communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that never abandons us.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us!