The United States journal, the National Catholic Reporter, has been interviewing people on what the experience of Covid-19 and its consequences might have to teach us about Church and world, and our faith.
Some of the responses they have received are posted below.
Catholic parishes across the world are closed. Millions of Catholics have been unable to physically take part in the celebration of the Mass for weeks, and they may not be able to again for months.
Simply put, the coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally changing how we do and be church.
What could these changes mean for us in the long-term? How will they affect us in the years to come, well after the initial threat of the pandemic has passed?
Over the past week, NCR surveyed two dozen theologians, social directors, non-profit leaders and pastors, asking them each to consider these questions. We’re presenting the answers over the next three days.
Today, we focus on questions of community. In the following days, we’ll focus separately on questions of church governance and the church’s social mission.
Recognizing the whole
SSr. Simone Campbell is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.
When this coronavirus pandemic abates, I pray that we as a church will have awoken to the fact that we are indeed one body. As one body, we have a shared responsibility for each other. Pope Francis and the popes before him are correct when they say that the economy should serve people, not the other way around.
If we learn this lesson, then the Gospel will live in our lives in new ways.
Healthcare will be seen as a faithful mandate of Jesus’ care for the lepers, the blind man and the widow whose son has died. Health care will return to being a ministry that as a matter of faith must be given to all. Health care will cease being big business that is exploited by the pharmaceutical companies and the hospital systems.
Wages to support a family will be a matter of justice, both within the church and outside it. Wages sufficient to allow all to live in dignity are key to the survival of this one body. Maybe we will learn the lesson that when people have the reality of enough to live on, then they can invite others into their lives. Inviting others in is the heart of a flourishing church.
When this is over, I pray that we learn the lesson as one church that Jesus calls this body to be whole. Working for justice becomes seen commonly as a Gospel mandate. COVID-19 has made us aware of our interconnectedness beyond racial and economic divides. Let us learn that this one vulnerable body can be vibrant church when we work together for justice and the wellbeing of the whole.
A paradox of incarnation
Lisa Fullam is a professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in California.
The effect of COVID-19 on the church is a paradox of incarnation. On one hand, our communities are less physical, less incarnate: A simple hug, coffee with a friend, gathering for church, are put on hold for the indeterminate duration. Priests webcast from empty churches; the faithful participate from home. The profound physicality of the sacraments is absent.
On the other hand, our communities are more physical, more incarnate. I spend more time attending to my physical micro-community of spouse, home, garden and neighborhood. There is something eucharistic about virtual dinner with friends — we break bread together, apart — in an event that is more than a phone call.
In our technological age, distance need not have stopped me from virtual dinner with friends across the country, but oddly it did. And we start with the physical. “Are you OK?” “How’s your mom?” Likewise, in virtual church, there is a chorus of “What do you need?” “Can I shop for you?” Our virtual parishioners are more eager than ever to respond to the simple incarnate needs in others’ lives — as simple as the bread and wine that we shared pre-pandemic.
In an age in which so many are drifting or storming away from the church, will the experience of the absence of the common loaf and the common cup leave the rest of us more free, more able to demand justice and mercy in the church and more willing to seek and practice those virtues elsewhere, if we are not answered? And to bring the sacraments with us?
Pros and cons of virtual church
Julie Hanlon Rubio is professor of Christian social ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in California and is working on a book called Catholic and Feminist: Is It Still Possible?
Since my family moved to Berkeley in 2018, Sunday mornings have been a struggle. We’ve visited at least 10 parishes in the Bay area, but we have yet to find one that feels like home. Last Sunday, attractive options for praying in community online were almost overwhelming.
A Jesuit in Los Angeles was offering Mass from his room. A former student was gathering women from around the country to reflect on the readings. Students at my school were gathering for the first night of what was to be a regular prayer time. Relief washed over me. All of the sudden I didn’t have to struggle anymore.
I could gather with people who share my particular take on Catholicism — deep incarnational faith, progressive theology and a strong commitment to social justice. I could count on insightful preaching that would challenge me in a setting that felt like the home Masses I grew up with. I had the small faith-sharing group I had been searching for. I had access to a rich variety of Catholic prayer forms led by lay people. Zoom was, as one of my friends said, like “Facebook come alive.” I could have the church I believed in without ever leaving my home.
Yet I also strongly believe in the idea of a local parish, where you show up to worship with people who aren’t like you, but to whom you are connected as members of the Body of Christ.
I’m grateful for Sunday mornings that feel like opportunity instead of struggle. But I’m worried about what will be lost when we choose the church we prefer over the one down the street.
What are your thoughts? On what we learn about community from our present experiences?
Feel free to post them as comments below.