During this time of exile from the sacraments I’ve been thinking of other times when Catholic have, by necessity, been away from the sacraments. I don’t mean when we can’t make it to Mass because of our work schedule or when we’re traveling; I’m talking about extended, involuntary periods of time away from the Sacraments and the Eucharist. Since we know that God’s hand can work in all things and that the Lord can bring blessings even out of evil, then we can think about the blessings that can come from this present absence from the sacraments caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The first group I thought of was the Catholic community in Japan. The first Catholic missionaries reached Japan in the 16th century and they began to make great progress in spreading the faith, converting 2-300,000 to Catholicism. The persecutions began in 1587 when Christianity was outlawed, the missionaries exiled, and some churches burned, but the missionaries continued their work in secret. The martyrdoms began 10 years later, in 1597, and continued on year after year, with brief intervals of peace. The last of the missionaries, 5 Jesuits and 3 secular religious, were martyred in 1643, and we don’t have much information from after that time. However, in 1848, when Commodore Perry forced the Japanese to reopen their borders to outsiders, it was discovered that there were still tens of thousands of Christians practicing the faith in secret without clergy or any sacraments other than Baptism. We can thank the Lord for our religious liberty, which wasn’t granted to the Japanese Christians until 1873, and ask God to strengthen our faith like the faith of the Japanese Catholics and martyrs.
Next, I thought of Christians imprisoned for their faith, like those in Communist Russian prisons. Now Cardinal Sigitas Tamkevicius was a priest in Lithuania in 1983 when he was arrested by the KGB and sentenced to 10 years in prison, some of which was spent in Siberia. Cardinal Tamkevicius explained, “My stronghold was my faith, which I kept alive by praying a lot. I could only celebrate Mass secretly.I celebrated the Eucharist with great care, and for me it was a great source of strength in prison.” He was able to request unleavened bread with his meals, and would use the grapes to make wine in secret. We can learn from Cardinal Tamkevicius and those like him to rely more on prayer, to stay close to the Eucharist however we can, and to do what we can with what we have.
Finally, I thought of those who are homebound or in hospitals and care facilities and who thus can’t get to Mass. Sometimes, they are able to watch Mass on TV or have the Eucharist brought to them, but that’s not the same as actually attending Mass. I have greater compassion for these people now, even though I get to celebrate mass every day, because I can’t go where I want or do what I want, and I also intend to have greater appreciation for the great gift of the Eucharist in the future. Let’s learn to never take our Lord, or Holy Communion, for granted, but to always reach out to Him in faith, wherever we may be, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.