John Clark is an author and speechwriter. His first book Who’s Got You? reached #1 in the Amazon Kindle “Fatherhood” category and his new book How to Be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford A Decent Cape was just released by Guiding Light Books. He has written hundreds of articles and blogs about Catholic family life and apologetics in such places as Magis Center, Seton Magazine, Catholic Digest, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A graduate of Christendom College, John and his wife Lisa have nine children and live in Virginia.
During this week, as the bishops of the world have steadily announced the suspension of public Masses, the Catholic faithful have been shocked, distressed and dismayed. The thought that we and our loved ones cannot physically attend Mass is a concept that most of us have never even pondered, much less experienced. At a time of virus and viral panic, we cannot physically receive the “Physician of souls and bodies.” So for many Catholics in America today, sadness and fear are the prevailing emotions. And yet, amid all this, there are reasons today for great hope and joy.
With the prohibition of public Masses, it is broadly said that we do not have access to the sacraments. As a friend recently reminded me, however, that is not true. Let’s not forget that we have received Baptism, the first sacrament of initiation. In Baptism, Christ obtained for us sanctifying grace, meaning that we have an indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. For those in the state of grace, baptismal graces continue to flow — I abide in Christ, and Christ abides in me.
We have also received Confirmation, and the effects of this sacrament remain with us forever. As the Catechism explains, “Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the ‘character,’ which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.”
For those of us who have received Matrimony, the graces from that wonderful sacrament flow as well. In fact, Matrimony is the only human relationship raised to the level of a sacrament. Matrimonial graces grant husbands and wives a stronger ability to tenderly love each other and foster the bonds of intimacy. And while Baptism and Confirmation leave an indelible mark upon the soul, Matrimony leaves an indelible mark upon the heart.
These three sacraments — and the graces that flow through them — should be a source of profound and enduring joy.
Still, the vast majority of lay Catholics will not be able to receive Holy Communion today. Some of us will weep because we are unable to sacramentally receive Jesus. Perhaps that is the proper response.
But it reminds me of a story. Many years ago, Saint Monica went to see Bishop Ambrose of Milan with tears in her eyes. Monica was terribly saddened by the failure of her son to come to the Catholic Faith. But Bishop Ambrose, seeing the tears roll down her face, offered her a great assurance, saying, “It cannot be that the son of those tears should perish.”
Many tears will be shed this Sunday, and some may be yours. But if Saint Ambrose saw you today, I believe he would note your crying as a sign of immense love — that your weeping represents your soul’s painful longing for union with Christ. And he might observe, “It cannot be that the soul of those tears should perish.”
It is true that we desire union with Our Savior. But the wonder of it all is this — that Our Savior desires union with us. That is a breathtaking source of hope.
And I believe it pleases God that, in a world that so often shows indifference to his love, tens of millions of Catholics all around the Earth will say this prayer of spiritual communion:
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.