May 1, 2020

Archdiocesan Catholics seek answers from God during ongoing crisis marked with questions

Allison Meyers stands in front of a personal prayer altar she created in her home, which includes her first Communion banner, as a way of keeping her focus on her relationship with God during the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Allison Meyers stands in front of a personal prayer altar she created in her home, which includes her first Communion banner, as a way of keeping her focus on her relationship with God during the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: The Criterion invited five Catholics in the archdiocese to share their thoughts and experiences concerning the coronavirus crisis and how it has affected their faith and their relationship with God—whether it has made them question him, draw closer to him or both. Here are their stories.)

By John Shaughnessy

Matthew Krach has suffered the pain of losing his grandfather to the coronavirus.

Katherine Shepard misses the personal interaction she usually has with the homeless pregnant women and their children whom she helps.

At times during this COVID-19 crisis, Jay Vennapusa has felt as lonely as he did six years ago when he left his family in India to come to the United States.

Allison Meyers sometimes worries about getting the deadly disease as she fills in as a nurse helping infected patients on a COVID unit in an Indianapolis hospital.

And Christa Hoyland has a list of fears and worries about the impact of the virus: “I see a desolate future where my parents don’t get to leave their home for another year, where my son’s September wedding won’t get to happen, where the Catholic school where I work will close or continue with online learning into the next school year, and where the restaurant my husband and I own may not survive and we lose everything.”

As the coronavirus crisis has touched each of their lives in challenging and meaningful ways, it has also had a powerful impact on their faith and their relationships with God.

‘God is still near’

Christa HoylandChrista Hoyland has experienced a wide-range of emotions and reactions as she struggles with the potential effects of the crisis on the people she loves.

“What I struggle with the most is the loss of hope, especially if I read or watch the news,” says the director of communications for Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville. “But, thank God, he pulls me back from the brink.

“I was weeping while taking a walk the other day, and God said, ‘Look up.’ And I saw my favorite tree, a dogwood, in bloom. And I felt a faint lift in my spirits. I began thanking God for the sun, for the freedom to walk. And hope again blossomed.”

A mother of two grown children, 54-year-old Hoyland sometimes wonders if God “must feel like a parent on a road trip with a car full of impatient kids,” all of them complaining, “How long, O Lord? Are we there yet?”

“I’ve wanted to know the answer for weeks,” she admits. “When will this end, and what will it look like? Why us? Why now?

“In these times of mourning, I grieve, but I eventually turn my face to God. I accept my cross, and I pray for those who need God’s mercy so much more than I do—those who have lost family or have family gravely ill from this virus, those working long hours to save the ill and dying, those who are on the brink of losing all they own, or those who truly wonder from where their next meal will come.”

Still, she acknowledges it has been “a painful process” for her.

“I’m reminded that trials are essential to salvation,” says Hoyland, a member of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville.

“I have grieved, questioned, doubted, railed in anger at God, and felt desperately hopeless. But there is Jesus—on the crucifix on my wall, in the image of Divine Mercy in my prayer space, and in my heart. He comforts me, restores me, gives me rest, inspires me and gently calls me back when I flounder. God is still near.”

Finding Christ’s comfort in the pain

Matthew KrachMatthew Krach describes the death of his grandfather in April from the coronavirus as “heart-wrenching.”

“He had to spend weeks in isolation at his nursing home and was unable to have his loved ones near him at the hospital,” recalls Krach, 24, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis.

“Everyone deserves to have family and friends near them during the process of dying, and while I completely understand the guidelines not to visit, it was still heart-wrenching to know that he was suffering greatly and we couldn’t be there.”

Amid that heartbreak, Krach and his family still saw how being together and praying for their loved one created a feeling of being close to him.

“While we couldn’t be there for him, Christ was able to provide comfort in our place. Our extended family was still able to talk to him and pray with him using video chat, as well as share our memories together of him in a Zoom meeting, which was such a blessing.”

The use of video connections has also been a godsend for Krach in sharing his faith with others during this time.

“Thanks to video chat, I have still been able to help lead my Bible study, which includes some young men living in the archdiocese. These chats have been such a great time for us all to come together, and still acknowledge and live in the Catholic community we are a part of.”

The video connections have also led him to seek online Masses that, he says, have allowed him to experience “reflections and homilies of priests around the country.”

“New perspectives and insights on my relationship with God have helped me to look past a lot of the negativity during this time.”

It’s also led him to a deeper relationship with God.

“Often I neglect personal prayer with God, favoring reading Scripture and praying the rosary,” he says. “Without being able to go to Mass or adoration, I have spent a lot more time having intentional conversation with God. I hope to maintain that even after I can return to the sacraments.”

‘I have encountered so much kindness’

Allison MeyersWhen she comes home from her shifts of working as a nurse on her hospital’s COVID-19 unit, Allison Meyers finds a measure of comfort and faith in the sacred space she has created during the pandemic.

“I made what I call a ‘prayer altar’ in my spare room,” says Meyers, 32, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “For the first time ever, I have a dedicated worship space in my house.

“I found my first holy Communion banner and hung it on the wall as part of the altar. It reminds me that Jesus Christ is truly present even if I am unable to physically receive the Eucharist.”

The altar is just one of the ways she has tried to deepen her relationship with God during this crisis.

“I drew closer to God during Holy Week,” she says. “Often, I feel like Holy Week and Easter sneak up on me and I rush into the Triduum without a sense of preparedness. 

“This year, other than work, there were no events taking up my time. I devoted that extra time to prayer, attending all of the services through St. Joan of Arc, and reading the daily Scriptures and Father Guy Roberts’ reflections.”

That deeper connection has also helped her when she has filled in on the COVID unit at Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis.

“I think it is important to care for the sick and to give the regular staff on those units a break,” says Meyers, who usually works as a labor and delivery nurse. “Although I worry about getting sick at times, I believe my faith has enabled me to stay calm and not dwell on this worry for more than a few moments.”

Instead, she focuses on the wealth of kindnesses she has received from her neighbors, friends and family members who are aware of her contributions at the hospital.

“I have received a few meals, kind notes and gifts on my porch, all of which have been so thoughtful. They let me know that I am loved and well taken care of during this uncertain time.

“Although I don’t know why we are experiencing this right now, I believe that God will bring good from it. I have encountered so much kindness already. My hope as I go forward in my relationship with God is to continue to set aside time for prayer. Even after we enter back into the church building, I plan to keep my prayer altar.” 

‘He will uplift us’

Jay VennapusaWhen he looks back on the early days of the pandemic, Jay Vennapusa admits there were times when he questioned God.

“The one question in my mind was why the Lord is letting his people suffer,” recalls Vennapusa, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

“But I reminded myself of how much love the Lord has for us and this suffering might be for the greater good. I feel that when we are faithful to the Lord during the worst, he will uplift us and make us the best version of ourselves.”

The 28-year-old Vennapusa embraces that belief because of a defining experience in his life six years ago—when he left his family in India to come to the United States to pursue a master’s degree.

“I was at the rock bottom of my life, scared of new surroundings, confused, and had no friends. This is when the Lord drew me closer to him, and that is when I got back to my faith life. I constantly remind myself how the Lord helped me through my worst, and made me the person I am today. He made me stronger mentally and spiritually.”

Vennapusa has been trying to deepen his faith—and the faith of others—during the lockdown by leading a weekly, virtual Bible study group organized by the archdiocese’s young adult and college campus ministry.

“I’ve never lead a Bible study before, but this is providing me the opportunity to pray and talk about the Gospel with other young adults,” he says.

“One of the group members is a nurse in an intensive care unit. She shared about the current situation in the hospital, and how she is turning to the Lord for the strength and grace to continue to help people who are suffering from the virus.”

He’s relying upon the strength and grace of Christ, too.

“It’s not easy to carry the cross without his grace, and that is what I need to continue my journey. I’ll keep leading the Bible study so that I can be held accountable in my faith.” 

A time of sacrifices and joys

Katherine ShepardAs the pandemic and the lockdown in Indiana continue, Katherine Shepard often feels she is experiencing the sacrifices of Lent and the joys of Easter at the same time.

“This pandemic has led to so much suffering, solitude and sacrifice. It kind of feels like Lent has just continued on,” says the 29-year-old Shepard. “But it also has allowed me to slow down and devote more time to prayer and my relationship with God.

“I have also drawn closer to God by holding onto the hope that he will bring light in this time of darkness. Pope Francis’s Easter homily really resonated with me. He talked about how we need to respond to sorrow, fear and darkness with trust in the Lord rather than being paralyzed by it. He said that through prayer, love and small gestures of care we can sow the seeds of hope and even make that hope begin to flower.”

She says she has seen those seeds of hope bloom in the dedication of teachers, health care workers and food bank volunteers during this time.

She has also experienced it in the increased interaction of neighbors in the downtown Indianapolis area where she lives with her husband Eric and their cat Little Miss.

She’s even found some blessings in her work hours being “significantly decreased” at the faith-based organization that serves homeless pregnant women and their children.

“My schedule has become very flexible and has opened up so much more time for me to spend in prayer and reflection,” says Shepard, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “Each day, I have been able to set aside time to do my daily devotion, read the Bible or listen to a favorite faith-based podcast.”

The downtime has also led to a deeper connection with the women in her weekly Bible study group, which has continued to meet virtually during the pandemic.

“Usually, there are at least a couple of women who cannot attend—myself included—due to work or other commitments. But now the quarantine has allowed us all to participate and have a sense of community. So many of us right now are feeling a bit of loneliness, so having just that one to two hours each week to check-in with each other and pray for one another has been so good for the soul.”

Still, there are times when she feels “a lack of community and connection with others.” She “really misses” the people she works with, and the women and children they serve together.

Through all the different feelings the pandemic has created, she has held onto one constant.

“I trust that God will walk with us through this time of uncertainty.” †

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