Imagine moving without going anywhere. Imagine a journey without change or learning. It is impossible! As we think about our world after COVID-19, do we think about going back to what we left in March of 2020 or do we dream of a new reality?
In his book, “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future,” Pope Francis describes the contrast between a tourist and a pilgrim as he dreams about our post-pandemic world. A tourist may go on vacation and come back to where she started, back to the same routine she left. A pilgrim is on a journey of learning in which she allows the Spirit to call her out of herself to a different reality.
In writing this book, Pope Francis speaks about the opportunities that come from crisis, and he addresses many issues of global importance. In this small series of teaching editorials, I have invited some of our leaders to reflect on our journey as a local Church and how our parishes can proceed as pilgrims, allowing the Spirit to call us out of ourselves to a new reality. These reflections are not hard and fast action plans or final conclusions. Rather, I hope they provide our clergy, religious and laity with food for thought and further dialogue and reflection about what we have learned and how that might inform us going forward.
In this introduction, I offer three brief reflections that have developed over these months in dialogue with our priests and lay leaders. This introduction will be followed in the next four weeks of April by a teaching editorial on each of the four major areas of parish life: worship, formation, service and administration.
The Importance of Discernment: Pope Francis reminds us the “ideas are debated but reality is discerned.” As Americans, we tend to be people of action, even at times acting before we think. After months of lockdown and the diminution of so many of our parish activities, it would be tempting to come right out of the gate with all kinds of busyness. However, our Holy Father invites us to take the time — and now is certainly an opportunity to do so — to both enlarge our expectations and purify our priorities.
What has been revealed to us that may need to change? What have we been doing as a parish that is life-giving? What is mission-driven and what is simply maintenance?
Enlarging our expectations does not always mean doing more. In some cases, it may involve fewer activities that engage parishioners on a deeper level or approaching the same ministries differently. In other cases, parishes may embark on new efforts or they may let go of activities that are not helpful. In my discussions about our post-COVID cChurch, the concept of pruning was introduced. We know that plants may be pruned in order to experience new growth. In the same way, we may need to prune activities at the parish in order to purify what is truly important in living the Gospel and proclaiming the good news.
The Importance of Presence: In the November 2020 episode of “Conversations with Archbishop Kurtz,” I spoke with Dr. Karen Shadle, director of our Office of Worship, about the importance of presence in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and this is a concept I have reflected upon a number of times in my recent columns in The Record.
In this episode, Karen expressed very eloquently how isolation is antithetical to who we are as Catholics. We are not spectators; we worship together, entering into the paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. While physical distancing may be necessary as a temporary response to a public health crisis, our worship is social and communal, and our presence is necessary.
Central to our faith is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Recent statistics reveal this teaching is not as well understood or even accepted today, so we have an opportunity to teach and communicate about how our presence at Mass, as well as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, are the source and summit of all we are as Catholics. A fruitful area for reflection could be how do we present attendance together at Mass as both a priority and as an attraction?
The Importance of Fraternity: Pope Francis states: “If we are to come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone.” Even when we rightly exercise our liberty, including religious liberty, we always seek what is truly the common good.
A great opportunity in the post-pandemic reality is to renew and promote our rich Catholic social teaching, grounded in Sacred Scripture and in tradition, which can “restore the ethics of fraternity and solidarity, regenerating the bonds of trust and belonging … (because) in serving the people, we save ourselves.”
Embarking on a journey leading to a different reality can be scary but also exciting. I invite all parishes to embark on this pilgrimage to discern, pray and then act in response to the call of the Spirit.
Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. is the Archbishop of Louisville.