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Like the rest of the world, I miss my daily routine from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Easy, early-morning banter with the invariably happy baristas at my local coffee spot. The hugs, handshakes and high-fives, all forbidden now, that mark the time and place of my days, more than I ever realized.
One thing I miss particularly is the celebration of the Mass. I imagine people of other faith traditions feel the same about their own interrupted worship. The sense of deprivation didn’t hit me fully until last Sunday when I streamed Easter Mass, four words this lifelong Catholic never thought he’d have occasion to write, let alone experience.
I am not complaining. It’s absolutely necessary in our age of social distancing, and spiritual communion does not require physical proximity. But that doesn’t make remote worship easy, especially for me, with whom no one would confuse a mystic.
During college when I’d leave for Mass my friend and roommate, a Baptist from Houston whose religious services were broadcast nationally, would chuckle and say “my church comes to me” as he’d turn on the television in our Charlottesville, Va., apartment. I never had that option. Now it’s my only one.
Remote participation in Easter Mass felt particularly strange. With the assurance that death is not final, it’s the homily-equivalent of football’s victory formation – the game is won. Here more than any other time ritual matters to me. The hymns, vestments and incense reinforce a sacred and substantial joy that’s harder to catch and keep when your television keeps buffering.
The good news is absence seems to be making the heart grow fonder in my home, and perhaps in yours as well. My kids never exactly chafed over going to church, but now they have a genuine desire to participate. Perhaps it’s as Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone. Perhaps it’s something more.
As for me, I feel as hollowed out as the empty church I saw during the recessional at the end of the Easter celebration. People are supposed to be there. I am supposed to be there. Not being there is one thing. Seeing yourself not being there is quite another. It is for me to feel untethered or, as Walker Percy nicely diagnosed, lost in the cosmos.
I know it’s temporary. The pews of churches soon will be filled again, as will our nation’s synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, with their faithful. Our streets, shops and workplaces will once again teem with people longing for proximity to one another. Just not yet.
There is no lasting joy without tribulation, no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. That’s what I keep losing sight of, the glorious delight that surely will follow whatever reckoning – COVID-19 or otherwise – life throws our way.
Recalling this, perhaps like my Houston friend I, too, can say “my church comes to me” and mean it. On Easter Sunday, and every other day.
Mike Kerrigan is an attorney in Charlotte, N.C.