I just read through the long list of directives and restrictions for the re-opening of holy Mass in our archdiocese. It’s hit me hard and in ways that I didn’t anticipate. I’m thrilled to be returning to Mass at the end of the month, but I’m astonished at what it will take to make that happen. Sunday Mass (no weekday Masses allowed…yet) as I’ve known it will be different for the foreseeable future.
It’s not only the way we gather and celebrate Mass that’s changed; our entire world has changed. The way we work, shop, recreate, and associate with one another has changed, too. The economic landscape will be dramatically different as we try to recover from business closures and job loss. Without access to brick-and-mortar establishments, most of us have resorted to shopping online and choosing home delivery. It’s certainly helpful – I’ve done a ton of online shopping during the pandemic – but, will it become the norm going forward? Social distancing has cut down on human contact in all forms, made us leary of coming too close to others, and even has put an end to customary handshakes. Will that custom ever come back? Folks are working from home, attending meetings, and even exercise classes from home. We don’t go to events, we watch them from home. We even watch holy Mass from home. Some say our lives will never be the same again.
And that’s as it should be.
Regardless of how coronavirus came to be a pandemic (and there’s a boatload of theories and speculations out there), God has allowed it. He never allows anything that is not ultimately for our good. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” St Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans (see Rom 8:28). We are most definitely called to his purpose, even in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns, shutdowns, privations, and isolation. The question is not whether there is a purpose in all this, but what is the purpose for me.
As we move toward the reopening of the country, we need to be taking a long, hard look at ourselves and how COVID-19 has changed us. We should be asking ourselves, How am I different? What have I learned, and how can I use that to the glory of God? It would be a travesty to waste this holy opportunity to use something awful for something wonderful. I’ve seen stirrings of this during these trying past several weeks with people on the front lines serving heroically, random acts of kindness between neighbors, and innovative ways of helping people to somehow connect during isolation, for example. That’s awesome! But it can’t stop there. We not only can’t go back to the way it was, but we shouldn’t. The efforts and initiatives begun during the pandemic need to grow and expand. We’ve learned how much we truly need each other and we can’t forget that.
The same goes for our faith and the way we practice it. We know now how much it hurts to be deprived of the Eucharist and banned from gathering in our churches to worship. We know now the emptiness of not being able to confess our sins and get ourselves right with God again. We know now the grave disappointment of canceled First Communions, Confirmations, Rites of Christian Initiation, weddings, ordinations, and other celebrations. We even know now the agony of not being able to bury a loved one with a proper funeral. Even with the practice of our faith, we can’t go back to the way it was nor should we.
Human nature will cause many to adopt a lax attitude toward the sacraments. It will be some time before they’re back in full force, and in the meantime, we can easily become accustomed to watching Mass rather than attending it in person, to ignoring our sins because we can’t confess them anyway, or to let customs, traditions, and rituals fall to the wayside. It will be easy to let things slide because they’ve by necessity been sliding for so long.
Once we’re able to resume our liturgical celebrations, rituals, and sacraments, we must do so with more fervor and gratitude than ever before. The yearning must increase in us, not decrease. This is a holy opportunity to make the Church more alive than ever and to make the practice of our faith more meaningful than ever. No more taking the sacraments for granted – we need to embrace them with joy and enthusiasm. What’s more, we need to share that joy and enthusiasm with others so that the Church continues to thrive and grow.
It all boils down to whether we’ve allowed God to work on us during the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether we’ll allow him to work in and through us going forward. Are we better persons now than we were before?
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Image: Wikimedia Commons