The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Forty days in eucharistic desert is forming us

Published: May 15, 2020   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily May 10 at the House of Formation in Little Rock.

In the Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — Jesus’ public ministry begins with his baptism by John the Baptist, after which in Matthew and Luke he was led by the Spirit into the desert, where Satan tried to lead him astray, tempting him over the course of 40 days to meet his needs and pursue his objectives in ways that were unworthy of God and contrary to the mission that the Father was entrusting to him.

The Father used these 40 days of deprivation to form Jesus and prepare him for the next chapter in his life. Today we have what Jesus has to say in John’s Gospel about similarly formative trials in the life of his followers. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

Here Jesus is preparing his disciples for the next difficult chapter in their lives, namely his two-fold departure, first through his death on Calvary and then through his ascension into heaven. Jesus knows that this will be a confusing and fearful time, but he also knows that God will use the completely unprecedented time following that first Easter to form them for the future. He tells them that he is “the way, the truth and the life” but they will only discover what that means in practice after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Once his physical presence is withdrawn, they will discover the true power of Jesus’ words today: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

We’re slowly coming out of the desert, but it will be quite a while before things return to normal.

On Wednesday of this coming week, May 13 — the feast of Our Lady of Fatima — we will have reached the 40th day of our time in the desert to which we have been subjected by COVID-19 — in our case a eucharistic desert. Last Monday Gov. Hutchinson gave us the green light to resume public worship on a limited basis, and so by next Sunday Mass will be celebrated publicly in all of our parishes, albeit with many precautions and restrictions.

We’re slowly coming out of the desert, but it will be quite a while before things return to normal, which will probably require a vaccine or an effective treatment. Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, our future is uncertain, and like with them, God is using this time of deprivation to teach us how to put our trust in Jesus.

We take all the reasonable steps we can think of to mitigate the threat — God gave us brains and he expects us to use them — and then we place in his hands all the things we cannot prevent. And so, to us also, he says “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

Starting next weekend Mass will be celebrated on some basis in all our churches. Please pray that this will not lead to a resurgence of COVID-19 so severe as to require a second period when the public celebration of Mass will have to be suspended again, but if so, the Lord will help us deal with it, should that occur. After all, Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” He will lead us to the Father amid whatever trials we have to face, in every chapter of our life.

So in concrete terms, at least for now in order to maintain physical distancing, Mass will be celebrated in churches at 25 percent occupancy with 6-foot separation between family groups and individuals, everyone wearing masks which you lower only to receive Communion on your hands and then replace immediately afterwards.

I hope you used hand sanitizer upon entry into the church; I will also do so before and after distributing Communion. In many of our parishes people will be dismissed from Mass pew by pew starting in the back of the church in order to avoid a crowd forming in the exits and asked to go straight to their cars in order to clear a path for those following them. And in any event, let us all continue to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and that therefore these precautions will soon no longer be necessary.

And of course, on this Mother’s Day we pray for our mothers, in gratitude to God for them and especially we pray for any mothers who are suffering the illness, isolation and other effects of this difficult time. We will have a special blessing for mothers in this Mass.

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