In March 17, 2020, I became aware of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, I was not aware of the severity of it, nor the lives that would be lost. I did know that it was negatively affecting senior citizens, which was heartbreaking for me as a gerontologist. African- Americans were dying at a disproportionate rate from this terrible disease. I’m am a person living with a disability. What other effects would this have on me? Hindsight is 2020. Here are a few ways covid strengthened my faith as a Black Catholic:
The reason I remember March 17 so clearly is that it was the last day my daughter attended school in person. I had to do all that it took to keep our family safe because we only have each other. It was the first Lent that my daughter was old enough to understand sacrifice. I wanted her to participate, and I promised that I would work on not yelling out of frustration. But there was a pandemic! The way I was able to cope during that time was to resort to familiar behaviors, including yelling out of frustration. I would have gone to the library to seek resources on how to handle extremely stressful situations, but the library too was closed. I was rather unsuccessful during that Lenten season.
The other coping mechanism I had was prayer. I prayed to be a better servant. I prayed to be a better parent. I had no idea that the blessing of doing distance learning for one year was that I controlled the classroom in our house. There is no separation of church and state in our home. We pray when we want to in our house — before tests, to provide guidance in the language used in assignments, to have patience when it seems better to give up and call it a day, and other challenging situations. I know that I must model positive behavior for a positive outcome.
Fast forward to Lent 2021, and after one year of prayer and attending virtual Mass multiple times weekly, we had a chance to see if there were any lessons learned. We both agreed to participate in Lent. I agreed to not yell. She agreed to not complain about distance learning. We agreed to work together as a team.
Secretly, I knew that if we could get through this, we could get through anything. We did it! Successfully! I cannot think of a better way for my daughter or myself to have experienced this.
Often when I am in distress, I look to the teachings of the saints for guidance. Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman comes to mind when I think of someone who shows incredible strength while preaching the word. In 1989, she spoke to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She was wheelchair-bound and dying of breast cancer. I, too, must be strong in sickness and continue to evangelize. I still must recognize all of the blessings bestowed during this pandemic.
For me, as a person living with a disability, one of the greatest things to come out of this pandemic is the ability to watch Mass online. I do not want to miss Mass just because I am ill. Streaming has allowed me to watch Masses live, including those taking place outside the diocese. I was able to watch Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the first African-American cardinal, deliver the homily for Easter.
As the end of the pandemic draws near, I can see how my life changed for the better. In a Mass a few years ago where Father Ricard of the Archdiocese of New Orleans was the celebrant, he told us to PUSH — Pray Until Something Happens. He was right! Because of my prayers, something happened. I will be forever grateful.
(Aisha C. Young is President of the Colorado Springs Council for Black Catholics.)