Sister Mary Elizabeth has some advice for people sequestering in their homes:
Create a new routine. It will help.
Sister Mary Elizabeth is a member of the Passionist Nuns, a contemplative, cloistered community in Ellisville. With the exception of necessary visits outside of the convent, such as doctor’s appointments, they are separated from the physical world.
Their daily routine starts with prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours at 5 a.m., followed by breakfast and work in the convent. The social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have slowed their work, too — the sisters make altar breads used for consecration of the Blessed Sacrament at Mass. The rest of their day includes Mass, more prayer, and recreation.
There currently are six sisters in the community: superior Mother Mary Veronica, Sister Catherine Marie, Sister Mary Elizabeth, Sister Maria Fatima, Sister Isidora Maria (currently in Pittsburgh for continued formation), and postulant Caitlin Cashman.
A native of western Kansas, Sister Mary Elizabeth joined the Passionist Nuns in 1995. Back then, she made a weeklong visit at the convent and had a few months to tie up loose ends at home, including finishing graduate studies, before her entrance. It was a bit like bootcamp, she said, although nowadays, new vocations are eased into the community at a different pace.
“Back then we just came for a week visit and then we would enter and start in — go gangbusters,” she said. “I knew it was going to be very scheduled with prayer time,” she said. Similarly, for people who are staying in their homes during the coronavirus outbreak, having a schedule will help provide a sense of normalcy.
“I think mental preparation is the best way to handle that,” she said. “I’d like to encourage people — I’m pretty happy and I am pretty healthy at 52 years old, and I have been here for 25 years.”
She also found that little sacrifices could be a way of making acts of reparation for the souls of others. “I knew I was going to have a problem with this place not having air conditioning,” she said. “I entered in July. I’m from western Kansas, where it can get hot, but it’s a dry kind of heat. I was living with my parents (before entering the convent) so I would practice staying in the attic. I hope I was doing some good for souls. My rational mind was trying to prepare in that way.”
The sisters have ramped up posting prayers and other encouraging messages on their Facebook page since the coronavirus outbreak. Their chapel is still open for private prayer while practicing proper social distancing, but public Masses have been suspended. They encourage others to make a spiritual communion in the absence of Mass.
Mother Mary Veronica, the community’s superior, noted that offering these spiritual communion prayers are a way of helping others “so people have something they can read and unite themselves to Jesus, because they can’t get communion right now. A spiritual communion is about the best you can do right now” since Masses have been canceled to mitigate further spread of the virus.
“Anything and everything we do has merit when it is united to Jesus on the cross especially,” Mother Mary Veronica said. “That’s the purpose of the morning offering. You say that so everything you do in the course of the day is offered to Jesus on the cross, and to the Father for whatever intentions you might have.
“In this case the big issue is the coronavirus,” she said. “The Lord listens to our prayers for sure, but when they’re united to Jesus on the cross, then they have infinite value and it’s like dynamite. What the Father sees in our prayers is Jesus His Son, who is making that offering with and for us. Think of the power that’s there.”