March 19, 2021

Heartbreak and hope: readers share how pandemic impacted their faith

(Editor’s note: As part of our coverage of the ongoing influence that the pandemic is having on the faith lives of people, The Criterion invited our readers to share their experiences. Here are some of their stories.)

First part of a series

By John Shaughnessy

Dr. Patrick Knerr never imagined the journey of faith he would take during the pandemic—from feeling “hurt and betrayed” to being more connected and grateful than he ever has.

“Like many in our area, I was shocked and saddened by the announcement of the closing of all archdiocesan churches in March 2020,” says Knerr, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.

“I was even further disheartened to learn that not only were communal events like Masses and weddings suspended, but even practices like confession and eucharistic adoration were discouraged.

“Admittedly, I felt hurt and betrayed. I didn’t realize it right away, but my frustration was a reflection of a hunger for the sacraments. The ‘Mass on YouTube’ phenomenon provided some comfort, but I was quick to learn there’s nothing like the real thing.”

As soon as St. Susanna Church re-opened in mid-May, Knerr was there. And his return to church has sparked a revival in his faith.

“Since the reopening, I have found myself attending the sacraments and other public devotions much more often than I had ever done. I feel the joy and awe of being in the real presence of Christ in a much stronger sense. I’ve also been given the opportunity to serve as a lector for the first time, which has allowed me to get to know many more of my fellow parishioners.”

As much as Knerr has grown in his faith, he’s hoping for another kind of revival.

“Unfortunately, the pews of St. Susanna are not yet as full as they were before the pandemic began. I can only pray that many more will feel called to return to the sacraments as I was. I feel more connected to, and appreciative of, my faith than ever before—something I never could have anticipated when this whole thing began.”

‘I know the pain’

It’s a touching gesture of faith and compassion, a prayer that Karen Rushka has offered during the most heartbreaking times of the pandemic.

As a health care professional, Rushka has many duties, including keeping up-to-date data on COVID-19 patients in the IU Health hospital system.

“One data point in particular is the number of deaths for the previous day,” says Rushka, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “I can’t explain the feeling when everything shows all zeroes.

But as I enter a number for a death, I always stop and pray a Hail Mary for each one of them. I offer up the prayer for that family’s suffering.”

Rushka’s family has had to face that suffering.

“I know the pain,” she says. “We lost my 89-year-old mother-in-law back in May. She lived in California, and so our goodbye was via a FaceTime call.”

While Rushka has responded to the heartbreak with faith and compassion, she also marvels at the extent her colleagues have shared those same gifts with so many patients and their families.

“Although a typical 40-hour work week no longer exists for most of us, we’ve done our jobs with a renewed commitment to helping our fellow Hoosiers. I’ve watched my colleagues work seven days a week and late into the evenings, even on Christmas Day. I remember one co-worker handing over her young children to her parents for an extended period so she could focus on her job in infection prevention because she knew her expertise was vital to fighting the pandemic.

“And now as we’ve transitioned to the vaccine stage of this pandemic, so many work at the clinics after they finish with their regular jobs.”

She especially remembers one of the people who received the vaccine—Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

“Archbishop Thompson received his vaccine at one of our clinics, and blessed it the day he was there. He truly gave us our shot in the arm that day.”

‘After our year of Lent, Easter will come’

In the midst of the fasting and sacrifices of Lent, Leslie Lynch has always looked forward to the hope and joy of Easter.

That longing is even more poignant this year after 12 months of enduring a pandemic that has created challenges, hardships and adjustments in nearly every part of life, including the celebration of one’s faith.

“Though I am an introvert and could easily embrace the contemplative life, the isolation of COVID life leaves me longing for my faith community,” says Lynch, a member of St. Mary Parish in the southern Indiana community of Lanesville.

“Zoom Bible study brings us together in faith and prayer—a blessing!—but underscores our separateness when we cannot comfort each other with a hug. It has been a year of letting go of ‘normal,’ and letting go of control. It has been a year of Lent.

“And like Lent, my faith has traveled a sorrowful path at times. A friend died of COVID, and I found myself as Martha greeting Jesus after Lazarus had died: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ [Jn 11:21]. Yet that cry of abandonment is itself a cry of faith. From the struggle comes this: I wept with joy when our long fast from the Eucharist was broken with a deacon’s visit. God does comfort his people in their need.”

Lynch says that she and her husband Chuck also find comfort in their anticipation of Easter. The celebration of Christ’s resurrection will be even more meaningful for them this year.

“It will be a very poignant Holy Week this year,” she says. “After our year of Lent, Easter will come. We are looking forward to being in church for Easter.” †

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