By Andrew Sensenig OMI
As the world swirls with panic over COVID-19 or the outrage over the tragic killing of Mr. George Floyd, I am in a very rural setting as a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. I am acting pastor at a parish (Our Lady of Guadalupe) located in one of the smallest counties by population within the United States. My common population for Masses is one person other than myself during the week and in the good old days, before this global pandemonium struck, I was lucky to have 50 people for the one Sunday Mass at the parish.
The numbers game that often describes success in the more populated areas of the world or within the United States does not apply here. It meant that I had to take a different course of action than my Oblate Confreres, who minister in more populated areas.
First, I tried to watch as much news on television and read many articles on the news media’s webpages. I searched desperately on the radio AM and FM news stations and tried to make it feel that I was there. The problem was that there is such a huge disconnect from what is reported and what I experience here in this quiet little town in South Texas. It felt like the time from my youth when I was wrapped up in Star Trek. I would act out various scenes from the television show around my home only to have our Labrador Retriever look at me with her eyes saying, “Are you okay?”
So, I cut down my consumption of media and my life got calmer.
Second, I started to spend more time praying in our church and since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States, no one was coming to the parish, that meant I was presiding at the Daily and Sunday Mass by myself. It was the most unique experience to preside at the Easter Vigil all alone, except for the Holy Spirit, Angels, Saints in Heaven, the roar of a train barreling through the town with a cockroach or two walking lazily across the floor. This isolation on the biggest evening of our Community of Faith was powerful. I decided to do all the readings and proclaimed the word to the brick walls and wondered if this experience would make my faith deeper or shallower?
It made my faith deeper.
I am not concerned with numbers anymore, but I am falling in love with praying Scripture and living the Sacraments in the same manner that St. Eugene De Mazenod was taught during his time at the Seminary at Ste. Sulpice in Paris. It is called the Sulpician Method of Meditation. It is like Lectio Divina, except you have to pray the passage of Scripture with three steps and not four as you find in Lectio Divina.
The first step of the Sulpician Method is looking for “Jesus before my eyes.” It does not matter if you are reading the Gospel or one of the books of the Old Testament, Jesus is there and all you must do is look for Him.
The second step is feeling “Jesus in my heart.” This action brings the reading into your spiritual and emotional center and that is where Jesus desires most to be: with you in your heart.
Finally, the last one is experiencing “Jesus in my hands.” We do not live a life following Jesus in Fantasy Land, we follow and walk with him in our day-to-day life, even if it is a place that has more in common with an empty soundless abyss, than with a populated deafening mountain top. We are called to journey with whoever God puts in front of us, even if it is one person or one million, it doesn’t matter as long as you are following Jesus.
We are never alone, and never will be, because Jesus is always there. And how I connect with the outside world is not through media, but through prayer as St. Eugene would always encourage his Oblates to do by praying quietly before the Blessed Sacrament in a practice called “oraison” for each themselves and the world.
So, I will see you all in prayer today as I quietly pray the Scriptures in front of the Blessed Sacrament.