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Praying through the Anxieties of the Pandemic

Praying through the Anxieties of the Pandemic

For many youth ministers and directors of religious education (DREs) at parishes around the diocese, the pandemic has caused an increase of stress and anxiety as parish budgets have been adversely affected and being together in person has been virtually – no pun intended – impossible in the past few months.

How can a Catholic cope?

The diocesan Office of Youth Formation decided to address this difficult time in the world by lifting hearts, minds and souls toward God.

For those who want a great definition of prayer, St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote the following: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, It is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

With that mindset, Ryan Purcell, the director of the Office of Youth Formation (OYF), found a prayer, published by the Sisters of Life, that the office has been praying during the month of August. In early September, the OYF shared it across the diocese to all the youth ministers and DREs.

The timing was apt as, typically, catechetical and youth programs start during September. However, the only way that these programs could actually re-start is by getting certified from the diocese that they were in compliance with all the guidelines and mandates that would ensure everyone’s health and safety.

“There's fear,” Purcell said. “There's a lot of unknowns, not only in our specific programs, but in the world at large.”

So the prayer, called a “Magnificat to Mary,” was the diocese’s way of trying to unite people’s hearts to God by praying for the intentions of all those associated with the youth formation programs, including pastors, first as an office, and then with all those who are in the trenches with the youths, so to speak.

The idea is that those who receive the prayer cards are to stop what they’re doing at 2 p.m. and pray the prayer, with the understanding that dozens of other people are also praying it at the same time.

“On a spiritual level, prayer is powerful,” Purcell said. “The Holy Spirit works and moves through prayer. Just inviting that prayer and making it something we do as a diocese is transformative across the board. We are the one, holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. We are one body in Christ. We are in many different parishes, but we are one body. For us to be able to pray and to have that unity across programs, across responsibilities of the parish, we really are coming together, and being united in prayer is greatly needed.”

For one youth minister, Dianne Rostollan (pictured in the photo above), from St. Mary Immaculate Church in Plainfield, receiving and praying the prayer on the card – and knowing others had been praying for her and others – was a spiritual boost.

The prayer resonated because it spoke to the struggles that she and others are feeling.

“These past months have been the hardest of my entire life and I haven’t always lived an easy life, so that's saying something,” Rostollan said. “It speaks the words of what I want to say to God of crying out in this time of struggle and desperation. Me and my husband, we're foster parents. Our two foster daughters have been through the ringer these past few months, and to know there are people praying for us, and the words they are praying are for those who are struggling… that really spoke to me.

She also appreciated that being united in prayer is a way to break down the siloes that often exist in Church world. And, also vitally important was the method of breaking down any siloes.

“We're starting from the foundation of our faith, which is prayer,” she said. “If we're going to start to break down these siloes and start to become united as parishes and as a diocese and as youth ministers, let's start with prayer. Let's all pray together and see where we can go from there to repair our Church from the trauma we have experienced together.”

Since the pandemic started, her youth ministry program has been a virtual one. She said there’s been a couple of Catholic organizations that provided livestreaming opportunities for the teen participants, which they have watched “together,” meaning everyone tuning in at the same time from the comfort of their own homes. They then discussed whatever it was they were watching through Zoom.

But those livestreaming opportunities ended once school was about to start up again in August.

“It's going to be a little different going forward as we have to do our own thing again,” she said. “From everyone I've talked to in youth ministry, the numbers of teens have been down. From my experience, the teens who want to be involved, the ones who are there for the right reasons, are craving it that much more.”

The proof is in the pudding for the teens who craved more. During the lockdown in the spring, they wanted to meet twice a week via Zoom. Normally, Rostollan said, if the world were not in the middle of a pandemic, the teens would only meet once a week.

“The teens wanted that connection with one another,” she said.

Because everything has been virtual for months, the youth group hasn’t attracted any new members. That’s the sad news. The good news, however, has been that those who have craved more and met more are developing as leaders.

The youths have also been learning in other ways.

“They've been forced to slow down a lot more,” she said. “They've been forced to spend more time thinking about their faith in different ways. We can't gather in youth group. We weren’t able to go to church for a long time, literally. They were forced to think outside the box in terms of their faith. A lot of them before, busyness was an excuse for them. They would say they were too busy to pray. Now they can't say they’re too busy to pray. The pandemic has forced them to examine their excuses and overcome those excuses.”

She’s also examined her faith in the past few months. Because she was assisting in the livestreaming production at St. Mary Immaculate during the lockdown, she was able to attend Mass frequently in person and, thus, was able to receive the Eucharist four-to-five times a week. She realized that others who were watching at their homes were not able to receive the Eucharist. So her faith has been impacted by growing in appreciating for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

But she also feels challenged in her faith at times because of all the “darkness” that has resulted because of the pandemic and dealing with the difficult things in life that the pandemic has caused.

“God, why is this happening in our world at this time?” she has asked.

Although she is glad her youth ministry program is going to re-open for in-person youth group in September, she believes another shutdown is inevitable.

“We're fearing that we're going to open up again just to shut down again,” she said. “We're waiting for that next shoe to drop.”

The teens in her youth group, meanwhile, are anxious.

“I talked to teens [virtually] on Sunday,” she said. “I said, ‘Hey, guys, we're close to being approved for in-person meetings. How do you feel about that? I was expecting them to be over the moon to be able to see each other again. They're nervous, too. They're nervous about whether their parents are going to let them come to in-person youth ministry. They're nervous about whether they should come because maybe they have health issues or something like that.”

All these anxieties are exactly the reasons why every day at 2 p.m. the “Magnificat to Mary” is being prayed.

Here is the prayer. If you want to order it in prayer card form from the Sisters of Life online, go to the following site: https://sistersoflife.org/what-we-do/prayer/pray-with-us/


Magnificat with Mary:

Written by Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SV; Sisters of Life (www.sistersoflife.org)

Mary, with your consent to become the Mother of God, torrents of grace poured forth upon the earth, opening up for me a path to follow.

In times of loneliness,

Mary, be with me.

In times of turmoil and uncertainty,

Mary, be with me.

In times of grief, loss, or illness,

Mary, be with me.

In times of sadness or depression,

Mary, be with me.

In times of lost plans and broken promises,

Mary, be with me.

When I am anxious about the welfare of my family,

Mary, be with me.

When a job or financial stress weighs heavily on my heart,

Mary, be with me.

When I am discouraged by the weight of my sins,

Mary, be with me.

When I am tempted,

Mary, be with me.

When I am afraid,

Mary, be with me.

When the Lord calls me to greater kindness and love,

Mary, be with me.

When the Lord calls me to greater forgiveness,

Mary, be with me.

When the Lord calls me to greater purity,

Mary, be with me.

 

On the wings of your Fiat, Mary, I proclaim mine. Together we sing a Magnificat of praise:

For all the blessings in my life,

I praise You, Jesus.

For the gift of today,

I praise You, Jesus.

For the gift of loved ones,

I praise You, Jesus.

For the gift of my life,

I praise You, Jesus.

For creating me with a special purpose and plan,

I praise You, Jesus.

For never giving up on me,

I praise You, Jesus.

For Your infinite love,

I praise You, Jesus.

For never leaving me,

I praise You, Jesus.

For your inexhaustible mercy,

I praise You, Jesus.

For laying down Your life for me,

I praise You, Jesus.

For Your presence in the Eucharist,

I praise You, Jesus.

For the greater good You will bring out of everything, especially

In moments when I feel helpless and vulnerable,

I praise You, Jesus.

In the midst of uncertainty,

I praise You, Jesus.

In the midst of humiliation,

I praise You, Jesus.

In the midst of difficulty,

I praise You, Jesus.

In the midst of what appears as failure,

I praise You, Jesus.

For sending Your Mother to me in both joyful and sorrowful moments,

I praise You, Jesus.

With Mary I sing:

The Almighty has done great things tor me, and holy is His Name. Amen.