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In March last year I had written about ‘Grace In Time Of Trial’ – changes were beginning to take place in response to the gathering pace of the pandemic. I had begun by writing –

“As Catholics, one of the most worrying aspects of the present Coronavirus pandemic is the potential or actual loss of access to the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.”

Just one week later, the Churches here were closed and access to the Sacraments ceased as lockdown began.

A few days earlier, I had written another piece, in which I had wondered –

“But what of the practice of our Catholic Faith? It may be that for a while, our practice will change in terms of location and form. The location may move from the parish Church to the ‘domestic Church’ – that is, our home. And the form may change from liturgical gatherings and worship, to prayer practiced at home.”

Looking back on that time now, fourteen months and three ‘lockdowns’ later, it still seems quite surreal in many ways.

We did indeed lose access to the Sacraments and the practice of the faith moved from Church to home, to that ‘domestic church’ I had mentioned in my first article.

The ‘normal’ practice of the faith has still not returned – I still need to book a place at Mass and I cannot simply visit the Church to pray since it is closed outwith Mass times; Confession is possible in some places without arranging it being a spiritual obstacle course but the ‘usual’ schedule has not (yet) returned.

In many respects, it has been such a difficult time for so many people with regard to maintaining an active life of faith. We have entered the era of the live-streamed Mass. And while that is wonderful in many ways and has opened new avenues for evangelisation, still it is not the ideal – ours is a communal faith, and that means being with and among others who share our faith.

I am deeply grateful that my spiritual life has survived all this intact – I continue to pray and my faith is still immensely important to me. I have tried to see the graces which have accompanied all the difficulties of these times – and there have been many! One personal grace is that I am now more faithful to praying the Liturgy of the Hours than I was previously – partly due to a greater availability of time, and partly through determination not to let go of this most beautiful form of prayer.

But I desperately miss just being able to go up to the Church for a little while, something I generally did on Saturday afternoons, when the Church was empty. However, I have discovered there is a daily Mass at Carfin Grotto, which is wonderful, and this does not require prior booking – details are simply taken at the time.

My home altar has become my primary place of prayer and devotion. It does not compare in any way to being before the Tabernacle, but it is the next best thing and the best I can do at the moment. I’m curious as to whether or not little home altars have become more common in these days – I suspect they have.

Needless to say, this period has been one of re-evaluation for me and – no doubt – for a great many other people. What matters most to me? What has lost it’s importance? Have priorities changed? In what way?

Prayer is incredibly important to me – it always has been, but even more so now. I think that for many people, it would be easy to let go of prayer – it requires a deliberate effort to keep praying, an intention lived out and put into practice every single day. Prayer is the one thing which has not changed, even if the location for it is different at present.

One other thing I find has changed is my consumption of social media – my criteria in these days is that it needs to strengthen and support my faith, it needs to build up; anything that ‘tears down’ rather than building up, I dispense with. Life is too short to become embroiled in the so-called ‘culture wars’ and the various ephemeral arguments which can be so common. It seems to me that it is far more important to focus very intently on the essentials and on those things which do some spiritual good. In essence, if it does not bring interior peace, I put it to the side and move on.

In terms of broader media, I was never a fan of television and don’t watch very much apart from the news and some documentaries. I listen to the radio, however. But I find that I am spending much more time with spiritual reading – currently, a hefty book on Vatican II and several spiritual works focussed on devotion to the Sacred Heart. That seems to be a better use of my time.

As we hope to begin to come out of the restrictions of the third lockdown – a broader easing of these is under consideration but we aren’t there quite yet – thoughts return to finding a ‘new normal’. I wonder what that ‘new normal’ will ultimately look like. I suppose the Church at the broader level is wondering much the same thing.

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