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In the last few weeks I’ve been following the spread of COVID-19 around the world and in Italy and it almost seemed unreal. I wanted to tell myself that it won’t come here or if it does the impact will be lessened by our preparations and foresight from other countries’ experiences with this virile virus.

But still, I couldn’t ignore the stirring in my gut and in my spirit. I wanted to detach and believe it wouldn’t happen here — at least not in the same way. My maternal instinct to protect my daughter, who already has a seriously compromised immune system, wouldn’t allow me to stick my head in the sand.

I had to make tough decisions to pull out of church commitments amidst the uncertainty about how bad it could get here in the U.S. As a Catholic, this season of Lent is a time for spiritual renewal and there are many special events and disciplines to help us grow deeper in our faith. As a music minister, that meant pulling out of important commitments before the decision was made to cancel the events.

My decisions weren’t driven by fear but by the maternal and spiritual instinct to protect my daughter from this virus and from the chaos surrounding it. It was hard to make the call ahead of the full disclosure of the extent of our difficulties. I had no choice but to be proactive. At the beginning of the week, we made the decision to keep her home from all outings. By the end of the week, I made the tougher decision to cancel the aides coming in to help.

The last public outing for me to cancel was daily and Sunday Mass. Daily Mass is not an obligation for Catholics — it’s a joy. Even though I cantor on Sundays and I love the joyous celebrations, I love the quiet of daily Mass. It completes my morning devotions of praying with the scriptures and the rosary and reflecting on the inspirations of the Spirit in my journal. My day must begin with prayer — not because of some religious rigid obligations but because it is the very breath of life to me and the light which illuminates the path ahead.

You may be asking what this has to do with our current situation of closures, isolations, and social distancing in regards to the coronavirus? Honestly — a lot.

I kept quiet as my Catholic brothers and sisters — many of whom deem themselves holier than the Pope — cried apostasy when Pope Francis closed the churches in Rome to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Conspiracy theories were flying around on social media. Examples of courageous medieval Catholics flooding the churches in Europe during the bubonic plague were held up to shame Catholics for abstaining from the communal life of the church and reception of Holy Communion.

Does anyone want to talk about the fact that many of these saints died and likely contributed to the scourge of the Black Death? I read a great article explaining this very well by a Catholic writer.

My favorite line in the whole article is this: “We may be fools for Christ, but we’ve no excuse for being idiots.” Thank you!

The last time I went to daily Mass, I asked the Lord to give me wisdom and show me whether I should abstain from attending to protect Johanna. As I approached the altar, the woman in front of me received Communion on her tongue. I panicked momentarily, thinking about the many times I have received Holy Communion like this and how often the priest’s finger touched my lips. But there was no way I was turning around at that point. The same hand that just touched her mouth was placing the Eucharist in my hands. All I could do was trust the Lord and say, “Amen” — I believe.

But my decision was made in the communion line that morning. I cannot return to a public celebration of the Mass until the pandemic subsides.

I’m glad that churches remain open and happy for those who have the liberty to choose whether they will attend public services in a time of a pandemic. My vocation as mother and caregiver to a daughter who is medically fragile demands another type of sacrifice.

So, please don’t judge me and my decision. My call to holiness is different than yours.

I’ve died many deaths as I placed my daughter in the hands of the Lord in the operating room many times over the past 23 years. Until you’ve heard (as I heard less than a year ago) an infectious disease doctor warn you that your daughter is battling the worst type of staph infection that all these doctors fear, you won’t begin to understand the sacrifice Jesus is asking me to make every day of her life.

I willingly do — because my daughter’s life is worth it.

We Catholics are not alone in the struggles we face to isolate or continue as we go. This morning I read an email from some evangelical churches who are encouraging Christians to recite Psalm 91 as their battle cry and continue to travel and go to gatherings proclaiming the Blood of Jesus protects them from all harm.

I am a firm believer in the power of God’s word and in pleading the blood of Jesus over for my life and our family. My life depends on it. But prudence and wisdom — the virtues which guide us in the practical application of moral principles — must be used to discern what action is the greatest highest good.

Look, I’m not just preaching to the church choir here. I’m speaking to all who are annoyed that their rights are infringed upon by closures and cancellations. I’m not a big sports fan, but I can understand the disappointments over major events being canceled. Last month we saw Wicked on Broadway and I understand the loss in theaters and the confusions over school closures. It’s really is a hard time for all of us.

But if these closures, good hygiene and practicing social distance can “flatten the curve” and give the healthcare system time to get ahead of COVID-19, while protecting the most vulnerable among us, isn’t it worth it?

All of us — including those in the 20% — have lives to live and futures full of hope. Here’s hoping this time will be short enough that lives are saved and livelihoods secured. In the meantime — on this National Day of Prayer and every day of this isolation — let’s all pray for a miracle in time for Passover and Easter.

While we wait in patience, let us be kind and practice love. “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18.

Those moments after I received my last Holy Communion in church, the entire church was enveloped in profound silence. There was no stirring in the pews, no cough or shuffling of keys. The church filled with daily communicants was silent in the presence of the Lord. I wept.

When Lent began a few weeks ago, I heard the Lord say to me; “I promise you a beautiful Lent.”

Abstaining from attending Mass in a church because of a global pandemic is not my idea of a beautiful Lent. God’s wisdom is not my own. But as the longing in my heart for Jesus grows greater and our little family gathers together today to pray for our world, I can see the path of tears in this beautiful Lent leading us to Easter Alleluias.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen