God Bless Texas (and Us All) During the COVID-19 Quarantine
No one can ever take away true freedom in our hearts and minds, where worship begins.
When people ask me how we’re doing during the COVID-19 quarantine, I find myself blurting out, “We’re still standing!” I may be listening to too much Elton John, but by that statement I mean that we are struggling yet doing okay.
I think it has a lot to do with where we live in Texas. I was born in Texas and then lived two decades in various parts of the Northeast as an adult before moving back home a few years ago. There’s an attitude here I haven’t found in other parts of the country. East Texas people tend to use common sense and take care of themselves. They’re straight-talkers. The idea that we are subject to government dominance is foreign to us. We tend to think that if you need a helping hand, the one on the end of your arm is a pretty good place to start.
For example, as quarantine hit, my neighbors and I tacitly agreed among ourselves that our kids would quarantine together, an extended family so to speak, since none of us were going anywhere and our kids were already in contact with each other. The result is that our kids have been able to roam between houses, play outside in the woods, ride bikes, swim in the lake, and have sleepovers regularly.
Teachers have been great in the public schools here too. They have gone out of their way to nurture the teacher-kid-parent relationship — sending emails, drive-by hellos, letters, phone calls and gifts as much as they've given assignments and clear expectations online. The people here are all about the kids and know the personal bond matters. The end of the school year was hard, but it's always hard. My kids have learned that coping in times of change is not something you do alone. (Shout-out to the Lindale Independent School District!)
As for community life, in the last few weeks I’ve gone to the doctor for a routine checkup, gotten my hair done, consulted with my friend who sells Mary Kay cosmetics, taken the girls to the orthodontist, and ordered food in restaurants to be picked up or delivered. I can get to the grocery store, the bank, the car wash, the cleaner, mostly whatever I usually did before COVID-19 with minor and reasonable adjustments for protection, including face masks when appropriate.
And, we've stayed close to the Church. Yes, it was very difficult for a few weeks without Holy Communion at Mass, but true to my Texas roots, instead of standing on a mountain top shouting about the injustice forced upon me by the government (as if!), I simply sent our priest a text. “Father, when will you be celebrating Mass privately? My family would like to be as close as possible. We’re happy to sit in the car in the parking lot.” Because y’all, being that close to the Lord of the Universe is still pretty awesome! Many times, especially since the sanctuary was open for prayer anyway, my family was able to go inside and be in the pews during the priest’s private celebration, which was to our delight a traditional Latin Mass. That’s right — we attended Mass during the quarantine.
This had me thinking about the years I lived in Massachusetts leading up to my first Holy Communion. In RCIA, I could not receive the Body and Blood of Christ physically, but I am a logical woman, and honestly, the Church is the queen of logic. My thinking back then was straightforward: If I believe in Christ, then I believe everything he told us; and if I believe that Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and if I cannot receive Christ’s Body and Blood into my own body, then I need to at least be as close as possible to his real, true and substantial presence.
In those days, I was going through a lengthy annulment process. My husband and I were civilly married and already open to life, so for two years I carried various assortments of teens, toddlers, infants and preborns with me to daily Mass. Consistent with my desire to get as close as possible, I approached the altar with my disorganized entourage in tow and my arms crossed over my heart to receive a blessing in spiritual communion. The day I finally received First Communion, the same day as our Sacrament of Matrimony actually, I thought I would pass out with joy. That’s how I felt during the quarantine recently. When I couldn’t receive Christ, I longed for him and did what I could to get close. When I could receive, I rejoiced.
My love for logic also means I fell in love with the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and he elaborates on this approach to worship in the bigger context. In the part of the Summa Theologiae where he discusses the cardinal virtues, the Angelic Doctor says that “religion” consists in offering service and ceremonial rites to God, and that it belongs to religion to pay due honor to God, and that part of practicing the virtue of religion is to have the “will ready to do what pertains to the worship or service of God” (ST.II.II.81,82). He’s talking about being a devout Catholic. Devotion means to be ready to do all we can.
To be devout does not mean we are entitled to receive the Body and Blood at every Mass. It does not mean we are entitled to even be able to attend Mass as much as we would like. Devotion to Christ means that we do our best to give him back his due, knowing we will never be able to fully repay our Creator and Redeemer for loving us into existence and becoming incarnate. That’s why Catholics have liturgy, art and architecture in the first place. We are trying like everything to show our gratitude to God.
Like many people, I think I can see the writing on the wall. There is no returning to the old normal. I’m sick of the phrase “new normal” but really that’s how life goes. Every time is new. I’m not sure where this is all going, and I’m fairly certain it will get much worse, but something in my gut says this is a time to think ahead in the light of grace and get prepared — to fortify.
This is a time to strengthen relationships within our communities. I have never been more grateful for my neighbors than these last few months. At times they have loaned me sugar, toilet paper, help with the kids, and even offered a glass of wine here and there. My kids have cleaned a neighbor’s back porch, weeded a garden, made trips to the store — all things that taught them the value of work. (The neighbors paid them for help.) One neighbor offered to cut my son’s hair, with all the precautions, in our front yard when he was shaggy. Lots of neighbors walk their dogs in front of my house all day long and wave hello if I’m outside. I have the sense that if times get harder, I am not alone. Besides, we are about to face a Texas summer, which is definitely not for the faint of heart.
As for local business, I’ve been happy to support them as much as I can by making purchases within my budget. If the economy is a cycle that has slowed down, then it’s important to do what we can to keep it moving. Even small purchases count, like having dinner at a Dairy Queen drive-thru on $1 Taco Tuesdays or buying a few hanging plants to decorate my home. There is power in the local purchase.
And I don’t know if we will be forced out of churches in the future. I don’t know if Mass will become underground like it was in early Christianity and other points along history; it surely felt that way at times in the last few months.
I don’t know if our country and our world is headed for disaster. Nothing like this has ever happened globally before. The truth is, independent of COVID-19 I don’t know how I will die or what horrors I may be called to endure. None of us do. But I do know that we still retain a lot of freedom in the United States, and it would be foolish to waste that freedom while we still have it.
Besides, no one can ever take away true freedom in our hearts and minds, where worship begins. I figure I owe it to God to make things better in my time and place with the two hands I’ve got to work with, and I can’t help but think that maybe the rest of the country would do good to adopt this attitude.
In conclusion, let me just say, God bless Texas. When you can, come on down, y’all.