Hopeful Anticipation

DANBURY—A Reflection for Holy Week from St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Associate, Devon McCormick:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

My husband, Mikey, and I often talk about how we spend too much time on our phones. In fact, one of our “family rules” is to minimize screen time, and as Rilke so magically puts it in the poem above, be present to one another and to what is happening around us. We make sure to be intentional about our phone-time, and hold one another accountable when necessary. However, I’ve found myself scrolling through my phone much, much more lately. With all of the panic, uncertainty, and fear floating around with the COVID-19 crisis, I feel the need to bury myself in what others are saying, experiencing, believing, and how they are all coping. These times are unprecedented—I have no doubt that I will be telling my grandkids about these days of quarantining and social distancing. I’m scared—I’m unsure of how to care for my 16-month-old, or how we are going to stay put in our house with a dog who constantly wants to go on a 3-hour hike.

There is another feeling lingering within me, though. Anticipation. I’m constantly checking my phone because I am constantly anticipating finding or reading something—news of another confirmed case, an order to shelter-in-place, or maybe even something positive like a magical cure. I’m always waiting for something to come, and I really don’t know what it is, but I, along with so many I suspect, feel suspended in time. It feels like we may never leave this time of uncertainty. It feels like this could just become the new norm—living with the fear of being near to others and stock-piling supplies because we just don’t know what could happen tomorrow.

Perhaps this is how it felt on Holy Saturday for all of Jesus’ friends and family. Did they feel paralyzed by the never-ending waiting? Did they shelter in place because it just felt better to be at home than anywhere else? Did they stock up on bread and milk and supplies because they weren’t sure if they were next or if it was safe to go out? Where they all of a sudden thrust into a new normal that they never signed up for? Did they feel this same weight of uncertainty and anticipation… like what they really wanted to happen may never come?

For some reason, Holy Saturday has always been my favorite day of the Triduum. Unlike Holy Thursday there is no Mass celebrated; unlike Good Friday, there is no prayer service. There is no music. There is no joy or sorrow—there is just anticipation. Holy Saturday night we come back together in joyful praise at the Easter Vigil, but until then, we wait. For me, Holy Saturday has always held a sense of hope and peace. We know that Jesus has died… we know that our Savior has left us, but still, we wait. We gather our family together, begin shopping and preparing for our Easter meal, and together we enter into hopeful anticipation that Jesus will indeed rise, and we will join together again with our community to pray and sing and dance and rejoice.

Right now, our world is telling us to panic, stock-up, and stay 6 feet away from others. There is no Mass being celebrated throughout the entire country, just like Holy Saturday. Churches are dark and empty, just like the tomb. Holy Saturday calls us into hopeful waiting. It is peaceful. It is still. Right now, God is inviting us into an extended Holy Saturday—one in which we do not have to be productive or perfect. We can just be as we are in that moment. We can take time to listen to what God is telling us, as Rilke says above. We can let both beauty and terror happen to us, and work to find God within. We can just sit with our loved ones, cook food, play games, take walks, watch movies, and revisit what is truly important —all in hopeful anticipation that our Lord is indeed coming and that the sun will rise on a brighter day in which we can all be together again. We aren’t sure when that day will come, but until then, I am going to focus on being present, remaining hopeful, and lean into the anticipation for Easter morning, whenever it may come.