Could it be that the more we feel separated from God, the closer God is drawing to us?

This is not a road untraveled for God. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” as the prophet says (Isaiah 53:6). God keeps coming back. What we call “salvation history,” the story of God’s ever-creative love, reaches back from of old in the moment of Creation to encounter us ever new in the present, now and here. We wander and we wonder, “Where is God?” Might God not justly respond to each of us, “Child, where are you”?

The social distancing that separates us from our familiar associations can make it difficult for God to reach us, too, since God saves us through us, especially in the Body of Christ, the sacramental life of the Church. Separation from the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ has put many of us into a state we may never have imagined, except in historical accounts of religious persecutions or various forms of imprisonment that, even today, deprive some of what many of us may have only recently taken for granted.

Yet, like families separated by military conscription — and this is a kind of war — or other upheavals, love finds a way. Hearts connect, as they always have, through thoughts and gestures that pass through the walls that separate us, even if it means that we may have to learn to be mystics, as theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., believed must all become, in a Church that remains vibrant in a secular world.

The risen Lord himself appeared to his scattered and shattered disciples unexpectedly in their own self-imposed, post-Resurrection quarantines, where they huddled in fear. “Peace be with you,” he would say as they cowered in his unrecognizable but real presence, unrestricted by locks or doors. Nothing that human frailty wrought, not even death itself, was a barrier for God’s healing breath of calming and forgiving mercy. For all the distancing he suffered by the curses of a rejecting humanity, Christ would only offer us more ways to connect. Love always finds a way.

Yes, the places to encounter Jesus might be stretched and different, but the relationships, the bond would persist, even strengthen. Showing up suddenly on the road to Emmaus, where two friends were in conversation. In a garden — to Mary Magdalene — reminiscent of another garden where death first entered the world. On a shore where the catch was wanting, the Lord would bring in a harvest that filled and broke their pitiful, puny nets.

We long for the personal and sacramental touch, the natural signs of supernatural grace. Our longing is God’s thirst for us as well, or a small sip of it. Can we begin to decipher that what we now experience as a hunger, a desire for a deeper connection with the Lord is what God himself has yearned for, struggled for over “the thousands and thousands and thousands of years, vexed and terrible,” humanity’s rejection of God’s overtures, in the words of playwright Christopher Fry in “A Sleep of Prisoners.” The human heart “can go the lengths of God,” he assures and prophecies. “Dark and cold we may be, but this is no winter now. The frozen misery (o)f centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move; The thunder is the thunder of the floes, (t)he thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.”

Have you begun to notice more and more it is not a perfect world, that there is much broken in need of healing and redemption? Does the need for mercy begin to dawn on us in our sinful pride? Does it frustrate, even anger you that no one really understands anything and that even the best scientists and great religionists seem to be re-editing the past and moving the horizon every day? The order we rely on, the systems and patterns we counted on, or thought we knew, turn out to be, well, not so dependable.

Maybe this is the judgment of God — no, not his condemnation (that would be justice) — on a world that has put all too many things and creature comforts in the way of, and before his real presence to us. Yes, too many churches are emptier now. Yet only a month ago, malls and fast food counters and sporting events were filled with patrons who would otherwise perhaps be parishioners on a communion line … if they only knew Who awaited them to feed their hearts and souls with the true Bread that comes down from heaven.

This holy longing we may be feeling is no doubt but a small taste, a cry from the heart of our Lord crucified when he exclaimed, “I thirst.” It was the pining of God for our hearts, what Jesus was asking for at the well, from the sinful woman who only thought he wanted a drink of water, when Jesus was really after her heart.

Rather than reel in the misery of our own deprivation at this graced moment, we might consider that God is stretching our own hearts to receive a deeper and more intimate experience of the love, welling up in his Sacred Heart, for our unreserved, undivided affection for him and him alone. Even as we look forward to the day when we will be reunited in the assembly, celebrating the real, sacramental presence of Christ in all his ecclesial glory — and, hopefully with a more thankful, reverent and joyful spirit of worship — we now glimpse, however mysteriously, something of the eternal patience of the God who waits for us.

God always encounters us where we are. It is the story of salvation history and, most especially, that of the life of Jesus while he was personally present among us, going out to the sinner, to all in the margins of society, the outcasts, the lepers, the pariahs, the neglected, the unwanted. May God give us the generosity of heart to be present to our Lord in the loneliest and most isolated among us, bringing the lost sheep home to the heart of this God of infinite mercy, unbounded tenderness. Love finds a way of overcoming every distance, every distraction, every slammed door.

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