We press our lips against the foreheads of our loved ones, we tell them just how beloved they are, and we suit up for war. The world, the flesh, the devil, our own fallen nature, the wounds of Original Sin that none can escape — we are never in want of enemies. When will sinful man learn that to be a Christian is to suffer, to heft a cross over our shoulders, to mourn and weep as we scale this mountain, to take up our swords and fight along the way? Such is the lot of the adopted children of God.
There is no other way home for us. Our Father’s house awaits each of us at the end of the battle, yes, but we must fight until the end. More difficult still is the fact that we must fight with the knowledge that this war may go on for a thousand more years. We don’t know how many troops the enemy has. We don’t know his strategy. Our base is filled with infiltrators. Most of our soldiers are undisciplined and barely know how to use their weapons. Most of our leaders are incompetent.
This has been the reality on the ground for two thousand years, but still, we enlist. We recruit those closest to us to this impossible war because we know that to win our own final battle is sufficient to ensure victory, in the end, for the forces of Christ. Every day that battle draws nearer for us, our every breath a grain of sand falling through an hourglass of indeterminate size. Sometimes, by the mercy and power of God, we are lifted up high above the battlefield. We get a chance to see just how grim the big picture really is. The coronavirus is the gift of reconnaissance, and we must make use of it — both for the battle and for the war.
I thought I was someone who reflected sufficiently on my death.
I was wrong.
The last time I went to Mass and received Our Lord in the Eucharist, I did not even consider that it may have been the last kiss. Sure, we all know we could be struck down by a car on the way out of the Church, but how easy it is to forget the spirit of humility that that knowledge should produce in us! How easy it is to forget we are dust!
I reflect back on that Mass now, and my heart aches with longing. Our drive across the city that morning had been perfect. Little traffic, a cool breeze, the welcome muddy grasses of spring replacing snow, the pink remnants of sunrise lingering against the skyline. We had probably listened to some YouTube video through the car speakers, discussed the latest Catholic controversy, laughed, and tried not to think about what we would have for brunch after Mass was finished.
It was a normal day.
My fiancé’s hand resting against the pages of a missal as we sat on metal chairs crowded into the nave, every pew already filled. The dancing candle flames on a metal stand of votives, the little coin tin a dull gold. A statue of Our Lady of Fatima looking down at us as we tried to watch the Mass itself, to catch a glimpse of Tabernacle or priest, peering along the edge of the doorway.
“My Lord and my God” — a silent chorus of a hundred hearts, joyful peasants welcoming our King, our knees pressed against cushioned kneelers or damp carpet, nobody caring which. Bowed heads, thumbs flipping through gold-edged pages, last-minute offerings and petitions and pleas for mercy. A last-minute prayer asking Mary to lend me her heart, the priest in front of me, the paten beneath my chin, the Bread of Life upon my tongue. I fall to my knees again, I pull my scarf until it hides more of my face, I bow my head. I want to be alone with this glorious King for just a second, just to thank Him for loving me.
I did not thank Him sufficiently for that last kiss. I was blind.
Never did I imagine any of this. Never did I imagine that I would be kneeling on my floor at home watching a live-streamed Mass every Sunday morning, not knowing when I will be able to actually assist in person again. Never did I imagine that I would hear of over sixty priests dying in Italy. Never did I imagine that I might not be able to easily go to confession whenever I need to.
Never did I imagine that we would be isolated at home as hundreds of thousands of people around the world get sick with a virus we still don’t know very much about. Never did I imagine the worry and anxiety I would feel over the minor cold-like symptoms of my loved ones, not knowing if we have all been exposed already. Never have I seen gas so cheap or store shelves so sparse.
I thought I was someone who did not take our modern world for granted. I was wrong about that, too.
It’s one thing to know, logically, that most people in history have lived much more difficult lives than the one I have. It’s another thing to look the future in the eye and realize that I truly have no idea how my life will look a year from now and no idea how strong I will be if my life becomes more difficult. My conversion to the Catholic faith made me a soldier, but that doesn’t mean I was ready for a battle such as this.
So much is uncertain, but one thing I know: I can thank God for the novel coronavirus. It has helped me to remember what is truly important in my life and just how many blessings I have. Worries that had troubled my heart became unimportant overnight. Family wounds have been torn open by stress, but other pains between me and my loved ones are being mended. Money has been pushed toward a more proper place of concern as I accept that we may lose a lot of savings and a lot of wages. So be it.
Most importantly, this calamity has helped me to see myself more clearly than I ever have before — so many of the faults I had kept hidden and excused have been brought out into the light. I did not sufficiently thank God for that last precious kiss in the Eucharist, but He did not withhold His graces from me in my ignorance. His single kiss is sufficient for me, for now. It is more than I deserve.
As we enter into this period of history, let us not delay or be slothful in our training. This war, so often hidden, has set the visible world on fire. Let us become the soldiers that our sovereign Lord deserves.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.