If you were a young idealist thinking about a worthwhile career, the ongoing struggles with coronavirus and its media coverage might push you towards the caring professions or science as worthwhile options. Even if you are not a fan of the ‘heroism’ card, it is difficult not to be impressed by the pivotal role the medical and scientific communities are playing in the ongoing coronavirus drama. If you needed encouragement to jump into nursing, science, or similar, the past few months have certainly provided it.
Let us take a step back and think about what inspiration a young person contemplating a religious/missionary vocation might have received because of the coronavirus experience. Not to put too fine a point on it, I would venture to say none.
If you are inclined to single out individuals to assign blame to, from Pope Francis downwards we could all share in it. But that is not my intention. Rather, I think, coronavirus has laid bare a much more basic and far reaching dilemma: when push comes to shove and creativity is needed, the Church tends to revert to the age-old dualism of the sacred versus the profane. Church buildings are placed at the center of faith; pray is understood as recitation; Mass, even without a congregation, becomes the panacea for all ills. To state it differently, instead of diving into the reality of the community of the faithful, and not so faithful, the response has been online Masses, novenas, ‘Spiritual Communion’, and pleas to open church buildings! In truth, the movie title, ‘Back to the Future’ came to mind: when in doubt revert to what has always been done. That said, I do not think it is a question of passing or failing, because written large on our report card is ‘Could do better.’
There is lots of talk about the ‘new normal’ lying before us. Personally, I doubt if it will be substantially different from the ‘old normal,’ unless we participate in shaping it. Left to their own devices, organisations and institutions, Church included, are naturally conservative entities to which change does not come readily. This puts the onus on the individuals who make-up such institutions to exert pressure for change.
Back to our report card and the important question: how might we, the Church, do better? In no particular order:
- Promote the scattered Church over the geographically and doctrinally centralized version.
- Broaden our ideas about prayer and spirituality and, in turn, encourage that extended understanding. After all, ‘secular mindfulness’ is rooted in religious soil.
- Dispel our constant need to teach and instead learn to humbly serve and listen.
- Search for and nurture new talents and insights which a time of crisis calls forth from unexpected people and sources. The ‘new’ will not come about through the guardians and architects of the old.
If in doubt, look no further than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advice to ‘… scatter seeds of hope in fields overgrown with fear.’