In the classic rock ballad “The Waiting” by the late Tom Petty, he lamented:
The waiting is the hardest part.
Every day you get one more yard.
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart.
The waiting is the hardest part.
That song comes to mind as we limp into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken the precious lives of more than 500,000 Americans, and yet we still find ourselves in an all too familiar period of waiting.
If there is one thing that humanity has learned to do over the last year, it is to wait. Wait while in quarantine. Wait until we “flatten the curve.” Wait for a vaccine. Wait for an appointment to get vaccinated. Wait to see your loved ones again. Wait for the economy to open again.
After a long, challenging year, we eagerly await the coming of better days.
For those of us who lack the charism of patience, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to our limits.
However, to be Catholic is to be part of a people who wait. Indeed, waiting, searching, and hoping to see someday both the visible and invisible is at the heart of our profession of faith. Woven throughout the Nicene Creed — the ultimate declaration of our Catholic Christian faith — is a prayer that encapsulates the fundamentals of waiting for a second coming and the joy of everlasting life.
Time is our most precious commodity, and the holy season of Lent — most often associated with waiting — is also about a journey of transformation. Lent provides us with a chance for a fresh start as we prepare for Easter Sunday, the most sacred day of the church calendar, through a deeper level of personal repentance, reflection, and redirection.
As we advance through another Lent during a pandemic, it’s worth remembering that Jesus regularly withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of his Earthly ministry to spend time alone in prayer. In an unsolicited way, the ongoing COVID-19 experience invites us to do the same.
If any good can come out of the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps it is that we have already experienced a transformation in ways seen and unseen. An invisible virus has opened our eyes to the harsh reality that our earthly life is a short, precious gift, and we must live it with an aim towards eternity. It is a tough lesson to learn but one that reminds us that we must first walk the Way of the Cross before arriving at the joy of the resurrection on Easter.
Another transformation stemming from the COVID-19 crisis is that churches and religious organizations quickly found creative, alternative ways of worshipping, such as through livestreaming of liturgies and prayer services. While remote broadcasts seldom replicate the true joy of in-person human interaction in a vibrant faith community, they are a safe and welcome option for the vulnerable and infirm.
In New York, these remote broadcasts were born out of necessity due to arbitrary capacity restrictions placed on houses of worship by government officials. Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New York may not enforce attendance limits on houses of worship because the restrictions likely discriminate against religious freedoms.
If you have spent any time in a Catholic Church since the pandemic began, you will appreciate this ruling considering the safety measures and protocols that have been in place since reopening last spring.
COVID-19 does not discriminate between religious and secular gatherings, nor does it recognize the government-designated classification of “essential” vs. “non-essential” businesses. Due to the mandatory closing of houses of worship last year, many of us traveled alone through Lent without an Easter.
When the history of this pandemic is written, it will be essential to emphasize that even during times of crisis, governments are held accountable for the obligations and commitments they have made to respect human rights, such as freedom of religion.
As we witnessed during the last year, faith takes on even greater importance during a global crisis.
May Easter Sunday bring us closer to the true joy of the resurrection and, with each passing day, a step towards the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
Brian Browne is the Assistant Vice President for Government Relations at St. John’s University, where he also serves as an Adjunct Professor
of Political Science.