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Fr. Justin Claravall, SJ — associate pastor at Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles — recently celebrated the first anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The milestone led him to reflect on what it has meant to live out his vocation during this time of pandemic — and how God is inviting him to pray with the present moment. The brief reflection and video retreats below are the fruits of that prayer.

By Fr. Justin Claravall, SJ

The pandemic will be inextricably linked with my priesthood. That’s because on July 15, 2020, Bishop Aclan ordained me and my friend Greg Celio to be Jesuit priests in the middle of a surge in infections in Los Angeles. Outside, on a carpet over the concrete, people prayed over us as we lay prostrate. Since then, it’s been a unique year as a new priest; my first Masses at Dolores Mission Church were celebrated in an empty church and livestreamed. I met the people I serve virtually before I met them in person, and have rarely seen their smiles.

However, when I’m tempted to look upon this last year with self-pity or regret for what could have been, the Spirit beckons me to look at what an opportunity the pandemic has become to practice priesthood in creative, generous ways. I’m constantly reminded that I’m not the only one whose life has been affected considerably by the pandemic. Perhaps unlike any time in  recent history, I can say that everyone has a common experience from which to draw. Maybe not everyone has experienced an ordination, a war, a wedding, or displacement; but the pandemic frames all of our reality, even if we haven’t all gotten sick or lost work or loved ones. We can all pray with the pandemic.

Striving to look at the last year and a half of the pandemic with the compassionate eyes of Jesus Christ, I believe that all of the memories or situations, pleasant or tragic, have some grace waiting for us. Someone said that prayer is taking a loving look at the real; for us, even if our pandemic reality elicits uncomfortable emotions, we can still look at it lovingly, prayerfully, and meet God there.

With that faith in the God who enters into our chaos, I present the fruits of some of the conversations and prayers I’ve had with people the last year and a half. My hope is that our reflections encourage you to take a loving look at the real, to learn and accept something about God and yourself, and to be free to continue loving and serving those around you in the most prudent and generous way possible.

Fr. Justin Claravall, SJ, is a priest of the US Jesuits West Province. He currently serves as associate pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, CA.