SARF holds first National Online Novenas
by Jayzl Villafania Nebre, SAR (SARF de Provincialate)
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom 8:35) This was a question posed by the greatest Christian theologian who has ever lived posed to the Romans about two thousand years ago. Clearly, this question still holds true during this time when we are locked inside our homes and not able to attend the devotions that we have held all these years.
But a heart flaming with love could not easily be extinguished. And so, some members of the Secular Augustinian Recollect Fraternity have discovered the wonders of modern technology to bring each one closer to each other and reaffirm our love to God, the Virgin Mary and the Saints. Hence, the series of online novenas were brought to light. Starting from the Novena to Saint Ezequiel Moreno to Saint Augustine and finally until the Novena to Our Lady of Health, the fraternity proved that no pandemic will separate us from the love of Christ.
It started with some members of the Provincialate Chapter wishing to continue their devotion to the Sacred Heart despite the pandemic. Someone realized that they can make a group call on Facebook Messenger, so why not try praying together using this app. Given the consistent attendance of the people in the Divine Mercy prayers, Sis. Yeng Galang suggested to have this practice extended to the celebration of the Lauds and Vespers, a move that was received with joy by the members.
Of course, we all know that a lot of our members are not cybercitizens, so it was not a walk in the park to have the meetings organized. The first meetings were quite noisy. Everyone was trying to answer all at the same time. And given the internet connection in the country, some of the responses lagged making it really chaotic to say the least.
Sis. Digna Pacis, suggested the use of Zoom, a web-meeting app that has become a popular tool lately. At first, it was not a very well accepted solution. A lot of the members have been accustomed to use FB Messenger already and learning a new tool is a new challenge to them. With a little insistence, convincing every one of the merits of Zoom, Sis. Digna was able to convince everyone to finally migrate to Zoom.
Then came the preparation for the Novena to Saint Augustine. At first, it was planned to pray the novena after the Vespers, like what the chapter did during the Novena to our Lady of Mount Carmel. But, as they say, if you feel the love of God, it is not possible to contain it in your heart. You will feel the need to share it.
Feeling this call to share it with the rest of the fraternity, Sis. Zeny Lapuz suggested to the national council the possibility of holding the Great Feasts of the Order using the same format. The national council needed very little convincing. It was approved just as soon as it was suggested. Members of the various chapters were more than willing to say yes to the call. With a little planning, each chapter was given a day to lead the novena. They zealously looked forward to their turns.
Understandably, it was not easy for everyone. Some chapters had a problem when it comes to internet connection. With a heavy heart, some chapters had to beg off. Others were so prepared, yet when the day came, their internet connection faltered. Others were not able to join due to the weather’s effect on the signal.
Then came the worst challenge. Typhoon Ulysses hit the NCR and Rizal regions which disturbed the power sources. A day of novena to Nuestra Señora de la Salud had to be called off. But, clearly the habit of prayer has already consumed the hearts of everyone. They decided to continue praying during the usual time, as if they were still united in Zoom. God heard the prayers. The following day, all came back praying together having a stronger desire to be united with each other in prayer. Needless to say, we were able to finish all the devotions in this new environment.
But praying together is not the only thing that resulted from this exercise. Whereas before, members of the fraternity would only meet each other once a year, during the national assembly, we had more time to meet and know each other. It was really a moment where we showed how much we missed each other.
The reality is, we felt closer to each other than ever before. We came to ask each other about their situations. We learned right away which members of the fraternity got sick of the virus, or perhaps their family members. We were also able to celebrate the birthday of some people online. We teased each other like long lost brothers and sisters. This and more than we could express in words.
So, whenever we read this question, “Who will separate us from the Love of Christ?” we will be very confident to answer. Nothing and no one. We knew it in our hearts that this experience will be very memorable. And while we don’t wish the pandemic to be extended any further, what we did will make us find more creative ways to pray together when future challenges come before us.