This time of having to stay at home and practicing social distancing has made me become more aware of all the things that I usually take for granted. Most especially, it is being able to be with the ones I love, most of all, my parents. This is probably the first Easter in my life that I won’t have Easter dinner with them. Usually, a week doesn’t go by when I don’t visit them and spend time with them. I usually have dinner with with them a least once a week as well as with my sister, niece and nephew. In these past few weeks, we’ve talked on the phone perhaps more than usual, used FaceTime, and even had a family Zoom call, but as good and helpful as technology can be to help us stay connected, I’ve come to realize that the best video, even when we are communicating in real-time, can’t replace or make up for the real physical presence of another. Meeting through Skype, or Zoom, or FaceTime is not the same experience. It doesn’t compare to the experience of being with the other person – being able to see them “in the flesh” – and to embrace the other and to be embraced in return. It is hard, if not impossible to share your life with someone and to really know someone if the sharing is just through a virtual means. Are you really “friends” with someone if you just know them on-line – through Facebook or Twitter? Even watching a “live” a concert or sporting event on TV as well as a recording of a live event or concert is not the same experience as being there at the concert or event.
What I’ve come to realize too through talking with many people these past few weeks is how much many people miss attending Mass for the same reason. It is not the same watching the Mass on TV or on a Facebook live-stream. Why? What we miss is the flesh and blood encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist. We miss his Real Presence. Having a good homily, seeing the church, hearing the Word of God proclaimed is good, but all of that can’t make up for or compare with being in his Presence and the ability to receive Holy Communion. What we miss is his real, physical presence in the celebration of the Mass and the reception of Sacrament.
One of the local funeral directors, an active, practicing Catholic, asked me, as we were driving to the cemetery a few weeks ago, “Do you think people will get used to watching Mass on TV or the Internet and not bother to come back to church when this is all over?” He also wondered whether for that reason, it would be a good idea to stop live-streaming or recording the Mass once we are able to have public Mass again. I said to him, “I doubt it. I think most people will be back, and hopefully more will come.” I asked him, “Would you rather go to Disney World or would you be satisfied with watching a video of someone’s trip to Disney?” He got it. A good video might be an invitation for someone to go to Church and interest someone in attending, but it will never replace actually going to Mass. For those who know that Mass is an encounter with the living God – that at the mass they meet Jesus – really and truly – there is no substitute. Watching a video – even live – is not enough.
Perhaps, this time apart – this isolation from going to Mass in church makes us realize that we’ve taken the gift of the Eucharist for granted. I’m often amazed when I bring Holy Communion to the homebound, how grateful they are for the visit. They know who it is they are missing (and it is not me). Even the Communion visit, as good as it is to receive Jesus, is not the same as being at the event in which the Eucharist is celebrated – in which the saving event is made present on the altar and we are there to offer ourselves in union with Him. Maybe this time apart has made us realize, all the more, what Jesus has done for us in instituting the Eucharist and the Priesthood – that he continues to pour himself out for us, wash us, serve us, feed us, sanctify us, and love us through the priesthood and the Eucharist. He gives us himself in a way that we can experience, in the flesh, his real presence and merciful embrace.
Realizing what he has done for us is what moves us to serve one another and to love one another – humbling ourselves to “wash each other’s feet” – to love the poor and the sinner, to care for the sick and the dying, to comfort those who are lonely and physically isolated. We are moved to be with them because it is this real presence – really being present with another – that gives us life and communicates love. The new commandment that Jesus gives to “love one another as I have loved you” can only be commanded because it is a love that has first been given. May we realize through our experience in these days how much God loves us and what Christ has done for us.