Move Over, Coronavirus: This ‘Time of Great Orphanage’ Is the Deeper Affliction

Pope Francis leads the Corpus Christi feast Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, June 14, 2020. (Vatican Media/ Handout via Reuters)
More isolation isn’t the solution. Real Presence is.

Adoption made the news in recent days because of a Republican congressman with the surprise news that he has been raising an adopted son from Cuba. It came out during an uncivil confrontation during a congressional hearing. The best of America wasn’t on display in response, because hyper-partisanship, suspicion, anger, and cruelty seem the rules of the day and the air we breathe. It’s some of the worst of America that adoption often seems to come up in the news or perhaps even in many of our lives only when there is some scandal or controversy. The 19-year-old has since appeared on Fox News. Perhaps his presence in the news can nudge us toward a radical shift in our thinking — one where adoption is more commonplace, because we are more welcoming.

The Sunday before the revelation was the Feast of the Corpus Christi on the Catholic calendar. Traditionally it’s a day of Eucharistic processions. I heard of a few, but there were not very many, given our coronavirus social-distancing practices this year. Still, there was something striking about the day, focused as it is on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, according to the beliefs of Catholics who believe what the Church teaches. That’s something to believe. And yet, if you truly believe it — if you’ve seen the difference that Presence makes in your life — it is just about everything. It is your strength, it is transformative, again and again. Being without it during these months has been a hardship, and yet it was also a deep exercise in humility. If you believe it is the Real Presence, it’s something you could never earn on your own, and certainly you’d feel no entitlement to the Presence.

For many of us who believe it is true, the absence of that Presence has deepened our appreciation for presence, period. You don’t have to be a believing Catholic to have had this experience: Even for some of us introverts, this time has not been the utopia touted by social media. We need the presence of others.

For some families, hasn’t this been a bit of a gift? No commuting means more time together. Of course, more time together may mean a little longing for that quieter commuting time, too, when perhaps no little person is asking for something! Presence is powerful — when it is comforting, when it is demanding. And how many people have spent some of this time drowning in virtual presence? It’s not the same. I’m grateful for what Zoom has made possible, but it’s a poor substitute. There’s no lingering, having the conversations one really can have only in person. It’s not the same encounter. We need those in-person exchanges.

It’s prudent, but I also can’t help but think that the Devil delights in the isolation that has come from social distancing — especially what happens behind closed doors. The uptick in all kinds of addictions and abuses, despair and suicide. Think of the children, in a particular way, whose fear we can’t see or whose cries we can’t hear.

A movie expected to come out later this year — The Ride — tells the story of the early years of former BMX bike star John Buultjens. It’s amazingly timely, as he was exposed to some pretty intense racism before being welcomed into the home of an interracial couple. His story is raw and powerful, about the healing that is possible even in the most intensely abusive circumstances, when anger could only be expected. It’s not a perfect story, which makes it all the more important. It’s about the real-life work of love, the work we are being called to by every distressing news story.

And instead of that overwhelming feeling that may be suffocating your drive to make a contribution to the world, stories such as Buultjens’s reminds us that the solutions are closer to home than anything at the Supreme Court level. As we wait for decisions involving abortion and religious freedom, we can ask, What have we done lately to help a woman in a crisis pregnancy, or the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have needed some basic supplies as they try to protect the elderly poor in their homes from COVID-19? We’re not going to end all the debates, but we can be a rung in a ladder of love.

And in his Corpus Christi homily, Pope Francis used the word “orphan” in unexpected ways, talking about this as “a time of great orphanage.” He explained:

So many people have memories marked by a lack of affection and bitter disappointments caused by those who should have given them love and instead orphaned their hearts. We would like to go back and change the past, but we cannot. God, however, can heal these wounds by placing within our memory a greater love: His own love.

The Eucharist brings with it, he said, “the Father’s faithful love, which heals our sense of being orphans.”

Whatever one believes, we cannot afford to leave anyone feeling orphaned. Even people within families feel alone and unloved. Don’t we see the consequences of that playing out on our streets, in our politics, even in so many homes? The solution is opening our hearts to others for the kind of healing that only otherworldly, sacrificial, merciful love makes possible. It’s amazing when we see it. And more of us are being called to that kind of amazing. It’s possible only with gratitude. And leaving room in our lives for encountering God — and being an instrument for encounter for others — sure doesn’t hurt.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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