Some years ago, before I came to my beautiful parish, I went through a particularly difficult time. I was, in effect, suspended from public ministry for seven weeks, until an investigation was carried out.
Three things kept me sane: the support of others, prayer, and routine.
With and without others
I had the privilege of being a guest of the wonderful Redemptorist Community of Kinnoull, at that time resident in St Anne’s cottage in Dundee. I owe them a debt of gratitude, which I can never repay. But, because they had missions to give and business to do, I was on my own in the house quite a lot. Often, I had to celebrate mass on my own.
I could go out but was frankly fearful of the press. My family and friends kept in regular contact by phone, email, and occasional visits. I kept these visits to a minimum because I didn’t want to expose them to any media ‘interest’. I also experienced the incredible kindness of people I hardly knew.
In other words, I went through an experience similar to the one many of us are going through or are about to go through: isolated but connected; with and without others.
My prayer life took on a different hue. As a priest, of by then 26 years, I had mostly celebrated mass publicly, even when on holiday. I was used to the interaction and the hubbub of parish life, the daily mass goers, the Sunday gatherings, and the preaching of the Word to a congregation. While I was used to praying the office and meditating alone, the mass and celebration of the sacraments had always been with others. I had always enjoyed celebrating mass. Even on my roughest day, it would be what, frankly, cheered me up.
Now, it was different. I couldn’t very well preach to myself…well that’s another story. The Redemptorist Fathers prayed with me when they were there, but, for a good part of the time, I celebrated mass on my own.
At times, I celebrated the mass in Latin (Ordinary Rite) so that I would slow myself down; other times I would deliberately sound out every word. I concentrated on the feel of the chalice, the sound of the pages turning. The mass became even more important to me than ever.
Those who know me well, know that I am far from pious – I wish I were. Being deprived of something, though, makes you value it more.
From the start, routine was important. Yes, people kept telling me that this was the time to read all those books I had never gotten around to, to learn a new language, to indulge in my hobbies, etc. etc. I had very little interest in any of that. I did, though, start to read more of the poetry of Seamus Heaney, for whom I have always had the highest admiration.
But, getting up and going to bed at set times, praying to a schedule, walking and exercising (I lost half a stone, despite the excellent hospitality – though my liver suffered a bit!) was vital. For me, perhaps like you, a few weeks down time sounds great: trust me, it becomes wearing without routine.
I wouldn’t have wished my experience on anyone, and many priests have suffered harder and longer than I did. However, I came out of that time a little wiser, a little more appreciative of true friendship, and… did I mention half a stone lighter?
No one wants this situation in which we find ourselves. All the dark humour in the world, though helpful, and very Scottish, will not make it go away. We are all experiencing a time of with and without others, detached from what we love and/or do the most. Prayer, routine and the contact we have through telephone, text, and online chats, will get us through it. And remember, many will need what help we can give.