by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Berkeley, California
When I prayed with the monks at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California during my sabbatical, the chanting of the psalms brought ancient words, worn and threadbare from repetition, alive. Psalms from the Liturgy of the Hours sounded new, fresh, relevant to what I was experiencing or struggling with in my spiritual life.
In an article in America magazine, “We Are All Monks Now,” Gregory Hillis quotes a monk at Gethsemane who told him he’s been praying the words of Psalm 91 every night for decades, “but only in the last month have the words hit home. I never thought the threat of a plague would pertain to us or specifically to me.” Psalm 91 contains this verse:
You will not fear the terror of the night
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the plague that prowls in the darkness,
Nor the scourge that lays waste at noon.
With the rise of COVID-19 cases surging in various parts of the country; as millions mourn the deaths of more than 650,000 loved ones worldwide, including more than 150,000 in the United States due to the virus; as people scramble to make ends meet because of the loss of jobs; as the politicization of the pandemic continues and debates regarding face coverings and school openings seethe, how might Precious Blood spirituality inform and influence our response to the pandemic?
Like the monk who heard Psalm 91 in a way he never heard it before, taking time each day with Scriptures, especially the psalms and the daily readings for Mass, offers insight into how to deal with grief, with fear, with loss, with anger, with apathy, with whatever emotions we might be experiencing. We are learning once again that as much as we would like to control the situation—and there are actions that have proven effective to stop the spread of the virus so practice the three “W’s”: wash your hands, wear a face covering and watch your distance—there are so many unknowns that we can’t control so we learn a little more about humility, about patience, about finding creative ways to be compassionate toward one another.
We are living in the shadow of so much death in our world and many of us are growing weary. But rather than grow impatient and bitter, our challenge is to go deeper into the paschal mystery—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the place where Precious Blood spirituality always takes us. It invites us to explore our losses but not lose our hope. It encourages us to explore the wounds inflicted by others without yielding to revenge. As the protests against police brutality and systemic racism rage on, it teaches us that those who are willing to shed their blood by standing against injustice have embraced the freedom to live in the moment without counting the cost. It promotes an attitude of resilience and resolve: no matter the plague that prowls the night, the promises of God manifested in Jesus will be our guide.
We need not fear because God is always on our side. The Spirit of Jesus dwells within us. So, take a deep breath. As we breathe together across the miles, embrace the opportunity this time gives to us to focus again on our priorities: who and what is most important to us?