As much as my priestly heart aches to be separated from the people, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist, I must admit the contemplative Dominican in me was quite excited about the stay-at-home orders because it offered something I have found exceedingly rare in pastoral ministry: the opportunity to pray and to study in silence for extended periods of time.
As a religious, my initial formations began with essentially a year-long retreat called the novitiate. Adjusting to the slow pace of the novitiate was quite difficult at first, but, after I got used to it, I had a year of profound joy found in silence and in sacred study.
I have discovered in my conversations with our student and resident parishioners that very few have any idea how to thrive in a time of silence and separation without the ease of access to the Sacraments and praying with other people.
Religious life, however, is simply an amplification of the regular Christian life; it is a taking of the basic practices which open the heart and mind to God and leading the religious to these encounters often. The Lord and His will, therefore, are often found most readily in the rhythm of religious life. In other words, religious life, with its consistent schedule and the clear, intentional space set aside for prayer, softens and open the hearts of those in the community through something simple and ordinary: routine and sacred space.
Taking these lessons, there are two imperative steps everyone should take during these days.
First, set a prayer schedule.
The best time to pray consistently is in the morning. Interestingly enough, many people already have an unwavering morning routine with exercise, reading the news, making coffee, eating breakfast, etc. It gives you a sense of a calm as you enter the day.
As you pray during these days, add prayer to those morning rituals. For instance, as you're waiting on the coffee to brew, read the Gospel for that day's Mass and sit quietly and reflect upon it as you drink your coffee. At the end of the day, too, as you prepare for bed and brush your teeth, give thanks for the day's blessings and ask God for His help and guidance for tomorrow's challenges.
The key is routine. Set times to pray and pray. You don't need to make a daily holy hour, but you do need to consistently invite God into your life at set times of the day. From there, He will take the lead and show you His face at other times.
Second, create a prayer space.
In every religious community, there is a chapel. Some of these chapels are the most beautiful chapels; some are re-purposed closets or bedrooms. The important thing is there is a space in the community set aside for silence, for prayer, for an intentional encounter with God.
Even if all you have control over is a little room, pick a corner and make it your place of prayer. Place a crucifix there and, if you have some, images of saints, especially the Blessed Virgin. Whenever you pass by the corner, bow to the Cross. When you go there to pray, kneel down and say out loud, "God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me." Just as importantly as making the space, you must use the space and keep it sacred. The space will start to form you.
These two steps of setting a prayer schedule and creating a prayer space will help you encounter the Lord in new and profound ways. They will also help you when these stay-at-home orders are lifted. Think of how much more beautiful and powerful your reception of the Eucharist will be when Jesus, because of your consistent, simple prayer life, is the absolute center of all you do and are.
In the end, these days are hard, but God and His Church have shown us the ways, even in the darkness, to invite the Light of Christ into our hearts, our days, and our houses. Now, the decision is yours.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.