Difficult times often challenge us to rethink, renew, and deepen our commitment to being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Because we lacked many of the things we rely on to nourish and support our faith during the pandemic (and some of us still do), we’ve been invited to consider other ways of practicing our faith.
I think for most of last year, we felt isolated and disconnected from the broader faith community. The new rules, quarantines, and lockdowns presented us all with a “new normal.” But while there is something integral and critical about the concrete aspects of participating in the life of the Church through attending Mass, receiving the sacraments, and interacting with fellow Catholics, this last year has invited us to explore less physical—or spiritual—ways of participating in the life of the Church.
While the coronavirus pandemic presented an opportunity to lean into these more spiritual aspects of practicing the faith due to the increased free time at home, it also offered many of us daily triggers or difficult or traumatic experiences. The inability to attend Mass in person, receive the sacraments, and even freely leave our homes perhaps raised questions or doubts about who God is, how God works in the world, what difference God makes in our lives, and whether participating in an organized religious community even matters.
I also noticed an increase in temptations as my weekly routine was upended and I was stuck at home with several danger zones unable to receive the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Unable to attend Mass, many of us had to reflect more intentionally on why we consider Mass “the source and summit” of the Christian life.
Yet, while there is no substitute to physically receiving the Eucharist and frequenting the sacraments, the pandemic did give me the space to explore new ways of practicing the faith nonetheless. It also revealed to me that, similar to my recovery, I needed to be consistent in my spiritual habits and routines. Daily prayer is vital and the key to a healthy prayer life is to choose forms of prayers that best enable us to engage in a conversation with God—to not just talk to God but also to listen to Him.
The pandemic gave me the time to examine my private prayer life and investigate traditional forms of Catholic prayer. While most people are familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours as a great form of prayer for people who like a highly structured format, and the rosary that combines reflection with repetition, here are some other forms of prayer I explored over the last year.
One way I’ve been able to stay spiritually connected to the Chuch has been through the practices of reading Scripture and the ancient Christian practice of Lectio Divina (holy reading). The purpose of it is not to understand ideas but to encounter a person—the Divine Being who inspires the words. It cultivates contemplation but is a more participatory, active practice that relies on our thoughts, images, and insights to foster conversation with God.
Another was Spiritual Communion, the ancient spiritual practice in the Catholic Church used in particular by those who cannot attend Mass and receive sacramental communion in person. I know that various saints and spiritual masters spoke about Spiritual Communion as unitive. That it unites us spiritually, if not physically, with Jesus present in the Eucharist, the community of faith, and in creation.
While not the first choice for most people, prayers of lament can be powerful prayers for those in recovery. Lament reminds us of our vulnerability. But they are prayers of faith and hope, not despair. We can express our deep frustration with a painful situation, such as our addiction or specific temptations, while also expressing our trust in Jesus Christ, who is healing our wounds and redeeming us. Examples of lament can be found in the Book of Psalms, the Book of Job, and, of course, the Book of Lamentation.
The “Daily Examen” is a daily review of one’s life and relationship to Jesus that focuses on both gratitude for God’s blessings and awareness of our challenges. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, it’s similar to the traditional “Examination of Conscience.” I personally have found this helpful in the evening.
Lastly, there is contemplative prayer, through which we can become more conscious and reflective of the many ways in which we experience God’s presence in our daily life. It’s a great option for individuals who are naturally reflective or find structured verbal prayer too impersonal. While I tried to do this to varying degrees of success and decided ultimately to pursue other forms of prayer, it has been a great blessing to some and may be of great help to you.
The year 2020 proved to be extremely challenging as the pandemic interrupted our normal routines and challenged our priorities. It offered all of us a good opportunity to examine how well we have been living the Gospel in our daily lives despite limiting some of our faith practices. If you didn’t develop new ways to stay close to Jesus Christ in prayer, then I suggest you try some of the suggestions above. Hopefully, you can then continue to draw from them even as the pandemic wanes and we return to the fullness of the Catholic sacramental life.
Aaron Walter is a lifelong Catholic and former porn addict whose ministry, NewMenRising, is dedicated to pornography addiction recovery. He is a coach, mentor, and accountability partner and is passionate about helping husbands kick their addiction and transform their lives and relationships. You can connect with him at calendly.com/aaronwaltercoachingsessions.