Recently, I was reading a reflection by San Diego Bishop, Robert McElroy, who wrote:
"… in these days of pandemic and social distancing … I have been amazed by the energy, creativity, optimism and resilience that have emerged in the collaborative actions of priests, lay leadership, pastoral staffs, school communities and religious women and men. Faced with the searing deprivation of direct sacramental encounter and community necessitated by the demands of public health, the Catholic people are imagining dramatically new pathways of participation in the most important elements of the life of the church."
Clearly, these days are like no other I have ever seen in my lifetime, and there is no more such thing as business as usual. Further, as we move ahead, quickly approaching the apex of the virus in our part of the country (NY/NJ Metropolitan area), we will never be able to go back to ministry as we once knew it. The impact on the ecclesiastical, emotional, financial and institutional aspects at every level will have to be re-evaluated and in many places re-constructed and/or replaced.
McElroy writes that:
"Parishes, schools, dioceses and social service agencies are attempting to carry out their missions in a vastly transformed culture in which we cannot wait for men and women of faith to come to us and our churches because it is impossible for anyone to come. Every single pattern of pastoral service, sacramental life and the proclamation of the Gospel has to be rethought and reconfigured in a radical manner."
At this point, I’m not sure exactly what that radical rethinking means, but it will surely involve:
1. Better and more timely communication with our people;
2. Utilizing more creative resources for sacramental and other instruction;
3. A deeper, more inclusive, and collaborative sense of mutual responsibility and accountability for all aspects of our Church;
4. Letting go practices and models that have not worked for a long time now.
5. Ministering to those most severely affected by the pandemic.
These days have afforded me the opportunity to share thoughts, ideas and anxieties with brother priests across the country. A growing number share the opinion that many people will not return for different reasons, and those that do will have a heightened sense of expectation, one that looks at and lives more closely to Gospel values.
Perhaps as we all have some more “at home” time these days, we can begin that process of creative thinking so that as a Church, we will be ready to continue to spread the Good News of Jesus to a post-corona world in ways that are effective, transformative and life-giving.