The Church has always been intensely concerned about holding, preserving and sharing what it believes…
After the pandemic, the Church has an opportunity to seize a new moment of evangelization
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the devastating COVID-19 virus in our nation, many questions are being raised about what the post-pandemic Church will be like. How does the Church proceed? How will it reengage so many who have grown comfortable watching Mass online, or who have substituted doing something different altogether?
It is difficult for many of us to imagine not having to wear a mask in Church while we celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. For some, even returning to in-person worship will be a challenge, as many have grown used to watching the livestreamed Mass at our leisure. Still others dare not allow themselves to imagine the pandemic being over for fear that it might never end.
The Scripture reminds us that no man knows the day or the hour of the Lord’s return — not the angels, not the saints, but only the Father in heaven. In some ways, we can say the same about COVID-19. No man can really say precisely when the pandemic will be over or when we can finally put our face masks away, hug our parents or grandparents and receive the Lord Jesus in both the bread and the wine during the celebration of Mass.
Dare we look ahead as St. Paul did in Philippians 3:13, saying: “Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead.” We, as the Body of Christ, must forget what is behind us and strain forward to what lies ahead!
A new moment
No matter how we feel about what caused the COVID-19 pandemic, or how long it will last, we, as people of faith and as the Church, must be about doing what is our deepest identity: continue to evangelize by leading people to an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:8 of something that many of us in the Body of Christ may be feeling at this present moment: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” We must proceed with the Great Commission of the Church — now and post-COVID-19 — which is to go (not stay at-home perpetually streaming Netflix movies or even watching Mass as it is livestreamed); to get up and go “into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
As we enter a post-COVID-19 environment, might this be a moment for the Church to begin again with a New Evangelization thrust because of the new season that we will be entering? Whenever God ushers in a new season, he always gives a fresh anointing, a fresh outpouring of his Spirit, to meet the challenges of the new moment. The episcopate, the clergy and all of the faithful of the world can access this fresh outpouring for the new day, post-COVID-19, by crying out in humility and docility saying, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
Reboot, refresh, renew
Said in modern language, we must as a Church allow ourselves to be rebooted, refreshed and renewed. Pope St. John Paul II also called for a New Evangelization: “Not new in content, but new in its ardor, methods and expressions.” John Paul II reaffirms the Church’s mission and obligation to evangelize those whose faith has grown cold and not only to those who have never heard the Gospel proclaimed.
Is it possible that our rebooting, refreshment and renewal could consist of the following:
1.) A recommitment to the clear proclamation of the Gospel with conviction, clarity and freedom of the Spirit. This moment of the new season calls for precisely that which Pope John Paul II alluded to when he spoke of a New Evangelization with new ardor! Ardor is defined as enthusiasm or passion, fervor, zeal, wholeheartedness. The opposite of ardor is dullness, lethargy, frigidity, unconcern and disregard.
2.) Putting our best foot forward and doing something I will call “demonstrating invitational excellence.” That is, let us begin to invite people back to Mass in a genuine way, starting now, by putting a message about the post-COVID-19 environment ahead of the livestreamed Mass and at the end of the recording. Tell people now how much we miss them and how we look forward to seeing them back in church soon to celebrate Mass in person with us. Use videos of the parishioners who are willing to record a short, personal welcome. The Church knows now from legitimate research that many people leave the Church because of the lack of a sense of welcome. Let’s make sure that we are welcoming to all!
This is simply using modern technology, a “new method” to speak to those who might still be watching from home. Also, this “invitational excellence” can be manifested by putting our friendliest and most welcoming among us at the front and side doors to greet people with a warm smile and a genuine sense of welcome and gladness. Let us use the gifts that God gave us as a community to be openhearted and hospitable. To some, this will seem like a small thing. But if we believe the research, this sense of welcoming is a powerful arrow in our quiver to evangelize.
3.) Renewed vitality in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries will go a long way in keeping the faithful engaged and excited about coming to Mass. Taking a good hard look at the music ministry that may be scattered right now to make sure that our music is creating an atmosphere of celebration and expectation. Once again, the research says that one of the big reasons people leave the Church is poor preaching and poor music. This is not about changing the message, but about evaluating how we are delivering that message.
We all have been through much during this COVID-19 pandemic. We, as Church, must now be ready to be about healing the deep psychological, physiological and spiritual wounds that many returning to the Church may have as a result of recent challenges. The Church must arm itself with the balm of the Gospel. We must preach and talk with a new urgency, clarity and anointing.
No matter how few are in attendance, we should be offering a great music ministry that creates an atmosphere of expectation, because all in the assembly believe that there will be a visitation of the King of Kings in the person of Christ at the altar. We should believe that there will be a manifestation of the presence of God in the assembly during the Eucharistic celebration and that the Lord himself will give his whole body, blood, soul and divinity to us during the celebration. Then the testimony of the power of God and the glory of God in the assembly — during COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 — will draw us together as one.
If we do these things, then we can all say, like David said in Psalm 122, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'”
Deacon Larry Oney is a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and founder of Hope and Purpose Ministries (hopeandpurpose.org).