Brett Robinson

The year of Our Lord 2020 brought a lot of change, to put it mildly. To put it more strongly, one might say it was apocalyptic, and that wouldn’t be wrong. “Apocalypse” is an uncovering or revealing.

Many things were revealed about the fragility of our political and health systems and will likely bring even more change in the years to come. This column has focused on our relationship to technology in light of our faith and something is being revealed there as well.

The lack of human presence we have experienced due to quarantines and lockdowns has taken a toll on mental and spiritual health. Loneliness and lack of social connection has been compared to smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity in its effects on the human body. The loneliness epidemic did not come out of nowhere in 2020; it was a troubling trend even before the pandemic.

Lack of presence was not new to 2020. As MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle put it prior to the pandemic, friends and families were often “alone together” as they spent more time on screens and social media than with each other.


Turkle’s phrase, which was meant to rouse us from our technological stupor, actually became a COVID-19 ad slogan encouraging people to stay home, complete with its own hashtag and website,

Catholics felt the lack of presence acutely as liturgies were moved online and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was relegated to being viewed through a screen. Spiritual Communion prayers were uttered worldwide to keep the faithful connected to the sacrament by other means.

What was uncovered, by God’s grace, was a eucharistic hunger that may have been laying dormant in many hearts that had grown cold or taken the availability of the Mass for granted.

It is in these moments that we are better able to see the way in which God helps us experience the greater good, even in the midst of suffering. A deeper appreciation for the true power and mystery of Christ’s real presence in the holy Eucharist gives us the means for initiating a revival in the year to come.

The cycle of the liturgical year is a revelatory sign of hope as one calendar year passes into another. The church, in her wisdom, has given us periods of fasting and feasting so that we become attuned to the sense of anticipation and mystery that comes with Advent and Lent, and the sense of unveiling and fulfillment that comes with Christmas and Easter.

The same can be said of our presence with one another. The “fasting” from human and liturgical presence that we have endured for more than a year will ultimately give way to a deeper reunion with our faith and with one another; a reunion that prefigures that which is to come when we are united with God in the most real and lasting presence of eternity.


Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.