How will the Church keep the faith alive in the “new normal”?
The Coronavirus certainly forced us to change our traditional ways of celebrating our Catholic faith. This year’s Holy Week experience was not only historic but most of all unforgettable since we have celebrated it in different ways.
Religious worship looks different now and will continue to be different tomorrow. How? Catholics have online Masses. Recently, the Holy Father gave the Urbi et Orbi blessing which is a rare occurrence. TV networks air the oratio imperata every day and one station (GMA News TV) even recites it every start and end of each of their scheduled programs.
The nostalgic tune of pabasa were not heard on the streets but live on streams. Pilgrims who wished to visit churches for visita iglesia were not able to travel physically but traveled thru the portals of the Internet. The traditional bloody flagellation was prohibited. Instead, staying at home while contemplating was rediscovered as one of the new forms of penitensiyas. These are only a few among many that have changed because of the pandemic.
For other faiths, the Methodists have an online Q&A bible study module. They also have online Christian services. Iglesia ni Cristos have online pagsamba, but for those who have no Internet, lay leaders print pamphlets of their pagsambang pansambahayan sent to them online by their ministers, give it to homes of their kapatids and at the end, they will submit a proof of their worship service. Born Again Christians have their online faith sessions, in fact, Victory International has “QuaranTalk”. I have not searched what Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus do now. For sure they are doing something to nourish their faith.
Still, the fact remains, the expression of faith changes. Never before in history that all religion in the world, all at once, is challenged by a pandemic. Each must cope up to keep the faith alive.
Yet one thing is common, they all shifted to online platforms, but you can observe the difference in preaching.
I have read an article published in the website politico.com on the future of faith groups. Amy Sullivan, the Director of Strategy for Vote Common Good in the US and a journalist by profession said, “Religion in the time of quarantine will challenge conceptions of what it means to minister and to fellowship.”
Trying to think about it, it poses questions such as: Will the Church allow online confession? Will the Church permit a hologram-based celebration of marriage? It is quite funny to label it as e-kumpisal and e-kasal. But seriously, if the Church will fully go online in ministering the sacraments, they should identify first which is possible to conduct without a face-to-face contact.
On matters of fellowship, we have a saying that faith starts at home. The Church must intervene to make sure that families are becoming schools of life and love. This is the best time for the Church to rethink its pastoral approach.
We should ask ourselves: How can families nourish their faith in their own homes? Do fathers exemplify Gospel virtues and be model to the whole family? Do mothers teach their children how to pray or at least prepare them for receiving Holy Communion? Are they all praying together?
How about those coming from broken families? How do they nourish their faith? How can children imitate their parents if the father is a drunkard or the mother is a nagger? How can a mother teach her child to pray if she needs to work abroad to sustain a living? How can a father be a model of virtues if he is already dead or in rehab because of drugs?
All these questions revolve around the family. The Church should evaluate if she is truly transforming families as communities of faith. Because nourishing faith requires the authenticity of message and approach. In one evangelization seminar that I have facilitated, we were able to let the group of adults, composed mostly of mothers and fathers, to exchange questions to the youth group and vice versa. Questions that arise were unexpected.
Adults asked the youth: “Aalagaan mo ba kami katulad ng ginawa namin sa inyo? Anong klaseng magulang ba kami para sa inyo? Anak, may gusto ka bang aminin sa akin?”
While the youth asked adults: “Bakit kailangang maghiwalay ng pamilya? Mabubuo pa ba? Bakit kailangan paulit-ulit na ikumpara ang panahon ninyo noon sa panahon namin ngayon? Minsan ba napagod na kayong alagaan kami? Proud ba kayo sa akin?”
That session is only experimental, yet it is the most genuine session I have experienced and the most fulfilling so far. Our team at that time was not afraid to try something unusual in aiding our fellow church workers to experience the authenticity of our Catholic faith.
I hope the Church will do something that will touch the hearts of all Catholics to ask the essential questions of life, so she may get authentic answers to real-life problems.
Well, I cannot think of any immediate intervention now to do this, aside from improving one’s preaching. Sullivan told that these times will “expand the opportunities for those who have no local congregation to sample sermons from afar. Contemplative practices may gain popularity.”
It is quite prophetic that our Filii group, with the help of our Filipino brother Dominicans, conducted a seminar-type refresher-course on preaching. It may be a coincidence, but I think it is the work of the Spirit. This would greatly define our vocation as a Filii or as a Catholic lay faithful. This is an opportunity to share the faith to the diverse users of interactive media. But the danger is, attention might focus more on the preacher rather than the Word of God. So, we need to be cautious.
As we go through the pandemic, day by day, you can observe that the people yearn for the Word of God. They desire genuine preachers. Someone who can talk on real issues in light of God’s Word.
I know not all will agree with me, but quarantined families today are spiritually nourished, not because of the sacraments, but because of preaching. By hearing the preacher’s contextualized interpretation of the Word of God, grace is already imparted to the hearer. It nourishes one’s hope.
I pray that the Church would invest more in preaching especially now that anyone who has access to the Internet can post their own reflection or view other’s spiritual insight.
Do not get me wrong, but I do not think this is the moment to convert people into our own faith. Pope Francis, during his apostolic journey in Morocco, reminds us of our mission. He said, “Jesus did not choose us and send us forth to become more numerous! He called us to a mission… our mission as baptized persons, priests, and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion.”
These moments will truly be unforgettable and historic, if we truly change our lives to be witnesses of Christ, generating positive change and awakening wonder and compassion.