The Church After the Pandemic: Prophetic and Contemplative
by Fr. Columba
1 May 2020
Pope Francis often speaks of a church with open doors. He says he hates seeing churches that are closed because a closed church is a symbol of something deeper. I think he’s right, but our churches, out of necessity, and for good reason, have been closed. They will reopen; the questions arise, “Will people come back? Since they have been staying at home for a while, won’t that become the new normal for them?” There are interesting challenges ahead. Coming from Europe, I have visited many of the big cathedrals. Although they are very beautiful, they are like museums, full of tourists. Very few people worship there. Let’s hope that won’t be the way with our churches when they reopen.
A Church on the Streets: Prophetic
The church, of course, is more than a building. The Pope is very keen to see the church in the role of spiritual accompaniment, and he often describes it as a field hospital. During the pandemic in Rome, for example, the church was very visible on the streets. Cardinal Krajewski, the Pope’s Almoner, drives hundreds of miles daily in service of the poor, making sure they have food. The church has been at the forefront of this movement throughout the world. In fact, in Rome the Cardinal asked all the bishops, cardinals, and priests to donate one month’s salary to the poor, a request that was very well received. The church has also been close to the people in many quieter ways. I know of a classmate of mine who has been quietly visiting a nursing home, anointing the sick and caring for their families. Many such stories abound. The church has called us to be prophetic, being close to the poor, caring for the needy, and being with those living in isolation. The Pope has spoken about the possibility of a worse virus after the pandemic-the virus of selfish indifference. Therefore, the church must be in the forefront, prophetically challenging this.
The Church at Home and the Church Building: Contemplative
During this time of Coronavirus, there has definitely been a surge in individual prayer and reflection by people in their own homes. Many homes have become a bit of a monastery; not surprising when people are locked in. They live in silence and trying to establish a rhythm of the day when they can’t get out. Many follow church services online, and there is an increase in people saying the Divine Office and the rosary, as well as meditating. On our Mepkin website, for example, there are between fifty and eighty people on average who have been joining Kathy Tosney and Father Guerric for meditation on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you’d like to join any of those sessions, click on the box titled “Mepkin Opportunities for Spiritual Connection” for more information. Mepkin will be hosting online retreats featuring Father Guerric, Jonathan Montaldo, Chuck Coward, and Kathy Tosney with topics on grief, Thomas Merton, being more available, and an Ignatian Retreat. Check the website for more details or email email@example.com for more information.
Pope Francis has warned us, however, not to get used to a virtual church because the people move from being participants to spectators, and the Liturgy is something we actively participate in. Virtual reality is no substitute for the real presence of Christ. How the church can use the social media to livestream its message can be illustrated by a wonderful example of a classmate of mine from Dublin, Father John Hassett, who is doing the most creative liturgies, especially for children. It’s worth having a look at on stpatrickslucan.ie.
So, let us hope that the churches, when the door is open, will continue their important work of proclaiming the Easter gospel. That work is on the streets where Christ is present, and it’s also at home and in the church buildings. It’s my hope that monastic life has helped and can help in the future towards the creation of a church with open doors.