Catholic News Service columnist Maureen Pratt reflects on the blessings of 2020, a challenging year. Photo from
Catholic News Service columnist Maureen Pratt reflects on the blessings of 2020, a challenging year. Photo from
What a difference a year makes!

As I read holiday greetings from friends far and near, I'm struck by how much has changed in our lives since January 2020.

Many alterations have not been happy. The losses of loved ones have hit us hard. The mandates to stay away from community worship and other religious activities have been tough to endure. The closure of long-standing, small businesses in our own backyards are daily reminders of how place after place has been forever changed.

But also, a bright light seems to shine through most of what my friends tell me (and what I've experienced, too). Although a whole year has passed, and this time has been unlike any other, in many cases what we have done during this unprecedented time has been remarkable, astounding and, yes, even blessed. And these activities bode well for the more active, opened up times that lie ahead.

A few months before the pandemic, I entered a Master of Theological Studies program online with the Jesuit School of Theology. Although I had been accepted by other, in-residence programs, I opted to do this one because I could stay where I currently live, near friends and a familiar medical team.

I was surprised when others in the field told me, "You cannot do theology online," and worried there would be a great deal lacking in course content or interaction with students and faculty. But I shouldn't have worried; the experience began splendidly – and then the pandemic hit.

Everyone "had to" do theology online – and other subjects besides! As the virus continued to spread, more and more people of all ages took advantage of the stay-at-home to study-at-home, acquiring new skills and learning about new fields that could provide employment later, intellectual challenge now.

Another blessing has been reconnecting with people I've lost touch with or otherwise had only rarely spoken with and getting to know my neighbors. Almost simultaneously it seemed, we went back into our address books, got in touch and not only rekindled past ties but were able to forge fresh friendships through the common experience of having much of life "on hold," or seeming so.

The opportunity to clean, declutter and rearrange where I live has been another welcomed and needed pastime. My houseplants thrived with extra attention, some blooming for the first time in years.

Also, I've been able to gift and repurpose things that I'm sure others can make good use of. The feeling of freshness within these same walls is so palpable, I hope to continue with this work for a good long while – and I know many others who have also taken to year-round "spring" cleaning.

At the beginning of 2020, all speaking engagements, workshops and travel were canceled. Yet, as the year progressed, other opportunities arose for online events. Blessedly, I was even able to give a half-day retreat for caregivers in the fall and have more planned in 2021. It has been amazing to witness a new, exciting and effective way of work emerging.

Indeed, the theme of emergence seems key to 2021. Much like the cycle of time written of in Ecclesiastes 3:1-9, there has been a time for weeping and mourning. But soon this winter will give way to spring. The vaccines will become widely available. The pandemic will wane.

And each of us will bring our newly learned skills, rekindled friendships, heartfelt lessons learned into sun-splashed summer days and beyond.

In that new time, oh, how thankful I will be, joining with all to remember and rejoice while savoring and sharing God's every good gift.

Pratt's website is