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Lessons learned outside the classroom from coronavirus

Grenada-born Sr Julie Marie Peters SSM is a member of the General Council of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, a Franciscan religious congregation. She serves as their General Assistant. Catholic News approached Sr Julie for her thoughts on her COVID-19 experience in Italy where she is based.

I stood in shock when our celebrant for Mass announced to us on March 10 that he would consecrate enough Sacred Host to last us until April 3 because according to a letter which they had received from the Government, he did not know if they would be allowed to come for Mass. I had not heard about that letter before hence my surprise. Then I became confused because I knew that we were “safe” being far away from Northern Italy.

As the restrictions became more stringent, the lockdown more generalised and severe, the social distancing became more rigorously isolating, I began to feel sorry for myself. However, somewhere deep down in my better self I immediately knew that self-pity was not a choice for me and that I would have to be vigilant with me.

Lesson number 1—What is the alternative? I said to myself, ‘Julie, look for the chapter on self-motivation and if it does not exist you will just have to write one!’  I wrote in my journal that very evening, finding meaning, purpose and direction in our lives and making sense of all of life’s circumstances is a fundamental grounding for wholeness and holiness.

Lesson number 2—As I vacillated and struggled to be faithful to the words I had penned, I realised that to have my inner peace I had to make these words a reality. I had to keep my integrity and hand in my homework for review by the Teacher of Life.

This is when I decided that I would walk around our garden with my camera trying to find photos that inspired hope. I had the thought then, that it might be possible to share it with others if I am so guided.

To accomplish this, I would have to stop the wavering, discipline myself to silent reflection with the photos until a quote emerged in my heart.

In the process of my own doubt, I journalled: “Lord, I have no idea of what I am writing, or where I am going. I do not know for certain if this is what you want of me. If this is how I am to help in the face of not being able to go out to feed the refugees, to visit the sisters or to even be on the street. I am trying to follow your urgings.”

This process really became a life saver in helping me to manage the emotional exhaustion from the sheer helplessness that I was feeling, the continuous reminder of the situation by the sustained frequency of the sound of emergency vehicles, the lifelessness of empty streets and the once bustling school building that now seemed deserted.

Paul J Donoghue, in his text Jesus Advantage, said “Images guide and shape our behaviour”. I have always had a very strong image of God as farmer. Now it was about time to write and learn.

Lesson number 3—I went out to the garden with mixed motives. I had chosen to wear a black woolen sweater to get the full benefit of the sun’s protection against the virus because I heard that it cannot survive in high temperatures, and to boost my energy.

The lesson that truly got internalised is that the image we have of Jesus or God has a decisive influence on the way that we think, see, envision how things could be and how our lives need to conform to His Will.

As a Super Farmer, He prepares for planting, allows space for variety, nurtures growth, prunes, enjoys flourish and deals with death.

Lesson number 4— In this situation, how is your image of God helpful? How is that image allowing you to find meaning and new directions in this current situation?