Isolating at home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic – coping with uncertainty, financial instability, job loss and being separated from our church and families – Orange County Catholics feel helpless and lonely.
Angry, frustrated and anxious, we feel our lives spinning out of control, says Father Angelos Sebastian, pastor of St. Kilian Church in Mission Viejo.
“Many people are losing their jobs, their businesses are suffering, and they’re getting sick,” Fr. Sebastian explains. “Then there is fear, which leads to anxiety and depression. We are used to living the lives we want, planning our days, including going to restaurants and movies, and traveling when we wish.
“But in moments of helplessness, the good news is that many of us are turning to God, our help and our salvation.”
As people felt isolated from the Church during Lent and Easter, Fr. Sebastian says, they began spending more time in prayer, practicing meditation and contemplation, reading Scripture and diving more deeply into their spiritual lives.
“I’m really amazed by the spiritual thirst that people are experiencing,” he notes. “They are seeking God now more than ever.”
His parishioners say they are making a habit of watching EWTN-TV’s Catholic programming and following Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire ministry, in addition to participating in the livestreamed Masses from Christ Cathedral.
“People are making good use of the resources out there,” he says.
Fr. Sebastian and his staff have made more than 5,000 phone calls in 10 days’ time, personally reaching out to St. Kilian’s parishioners, assuring them that the Church is there for them, supports them, and wants to help whenever and however possible.
He prays and posts encouraging video messages of hope and inspiration every day on St. Kilian’s social media channels. In addition, he directs a group of dedication volunteers who assist seniors and the less-fortunate with chores, errands, food deliveries, and other necessities.
“The Church has a great role to play in times like this,” he says. “There is a darkness in the world, so much negativity, and the Church can be a light that guides us and shows us the way. God knows what’s happening and He is there for us. With God’s help and support from one another we will get through this.”
Fr. Sebastian invites his flock to call, email, or contact him via social media whenever they feel alone. “We want to journey with people in their struggles,” he says. Although more individuals and families than ever before are coming to the parish food pantry in search of assistance, he notes that most often people are seeking spiritual consolation.
Like all of the many parishes in the Diocese of Orange, St. Kilian Church relies on donations and invites parishioners to mail or deliver their gifts or establish an online giving schedule. These gifts help support the parish food bank and other important ministries.
During Lent and Easter, Catholics found it challenging not being able to attend Mass, go to confession, participate in Stations of the Cross, receive blessed palms during Palm Sunday, participate in Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services, and visit their churches to pray.
“We have meditated on Christ’s passion and this year we have shared the suffering of the Lord,” Fr. Sebastian notes. “The coronavirus crisis gave new meaning to our Lenten sacrifices, as we joined the cross of Christ who leads us to the glory of Easter Sunday, His resurrection, and our life.”
Still, Holy Week and Easter – the most important period of the liturgical year – have been difficult, he acknowledges. “Our Easter was more a spiritual celebration.”
While we cannot receive the sacrament of reconciliation, for example, he says we can instead send our petitions and confess directly to God. “This is a wonderful opportunity to develop our relationship with God,” he notes. “You go to your father and say, ‘Hey, I messed up, but I will try to be better next time.’ I believe that this is the perfect time to develop that loving relationships with God our father.
“If you enjoy that kind of relationship, you can always speak directly to God,” he adds. “That is the covenant we have with God as his children.”
And while we cannot receive the Holy Eucharist in person, Fr. Sebastian says, “We can attend Mass online and receive the Lord spiritually. God can come to us in many different ways. He is not limited to the sacraments alone.”
As he reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic, Fr. Sebastian says, a beautiful prayer that he learned while growing up in India popped into his mind: “Lead me Lord from all that is untrue to the truth, from darkness to light, and from death to life.”
This is what being Catholic is all about. “I want to communicate this
to people – that ultimately through our pain and struggles and suffering, He leads us to a new life, to His eternal truth.”