NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond announced midday March 23 he…
The myth of the ‘good old days’
I have a longing to return to the times when I did not know what a coronavirus was and had never heard of COVID-19. Of course, my ignorance would not have prevented the pandemic, but in some ways, it was blissful ignorance. No social distancing. No masks. No gallons of hand sanitizer. No isolation from friends and family. No missing in-person Mass for months. Less economic gloom. Less worry and anxiety about what the future holds. I can’t help but ask, “When, O Lord, do we get back to the good old days of pre-COVID-19 times?”
But, in truth, the idea of the good old days is built on a myth. There is no golden age of our world or our Church. Yes, there are times in which the Church flourished, but many of those times came with great persecution, peril, war, disease, injustices or other crosses. Moreover, for many of those times, the flourishing was only for some, and never have we had a global age where all flourished. We never will, at least not on this side of heaven. Still, we live in the richest, healthiest and safest age of any the world has known. But, we also live in an age of growing godlessness (in the West) and immorality.
No matter the age we live in or the issues we face, there is never a time that the Church’s call to fulfill her mission goes away. As St. Paul wrote, “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tm 4:2). In other words, there is never a time that the Good News the Church offers the world is supposed to be paused, and yet that is what has happened in some places. Many Catholics do not see the pandemic as an opportunity, but a threat to the way things have always been done.
Looking back to our recent past, we must first ask: Why would we want to go back to the Catholic parishes and dioceses as they existed? Many parishes were closing or having to merge. Diocesan bankruptcy was common. We were (and are) still suffering from the fallout of the clergy abuse scandal. We have little cultural relevance. We aren’t fulfilling our mission to make disciples in the way in which we operate, and the statistics prove it.
Are there signs of renewal, growth and fruitfulness? Of course, but not in wide swaths. The unfortunate reality is that our current Catholic culture is managing the decline we are going through. The pandemic is merely fast-forwarding the decline that would have been spread over 5 to 10 years and now might happen in one year. Many of the people who stopped going to Mass will not come back, especially those who only attended out of obligation. In many places, we will have lower budgets, fewer attendees and an even more rapid decline than we thought. But that isn’t the end of the story or opportunity.
If there is ever a time the Church needs to offer some Good News to both those inside and outside the Church, it is now. So, how do we do this? We start by stopping. The first thing we need to stop doing is asking when can we get back to the pre-COVID-19 days. The reason we ask such questions is that we have a desire for what is “normal” to us. But does God want us to return to our old “normal”? I would argue he does not.
Our God is a God of renewal and revival. He wants new wine poured into new wineskins. He wants transformed hearts and renewed minds. He wants salvation for the world. He wants holiness in his people. He wants a bold witness and proclamation of his Gospel. God wants to do these things through you and me.
Knowing these things pushes us to ask more important and pertinent questions, such as:
- What does God want of us now and into the future?
- How can I help spread the Good News of Jesus?
- Who can I serve today that might need my help?
- How do we form leaders for our new reality of a post-COVID-19 world?
- How do we build meaningful communities where people feel valued and loved?
- How do our parishes and dioceses pivot to be even more fruitful than we were before COVID-19?
- How do we go beyond just running programs, events and classes to form missionary disciples who can bring the Gospel outside the walls of our buildings?
- What things are we currently doing that prevent us from doing these things?
There is no “normal” to return to. It is behind us. Furthermore, we ought to allow the Lord to transform our hearts and minds into desiring what he desires. Doing what he asks of us. Moving forward with faith, hope and love, as his followers.
The Church will need an age of creativity and courage, where we aren’t afraid to try something new, plan everything we do according to the mission of making disciples and stop doing the things that distracted us from our mission. We have an opportunity to reboot our parishes and dioceses, to wipe the slate clean. We need to act as if we are starting our families, parishes, dioceses, schools, etc., again — and then choose what God would have us do differently.
Treat your own heart, your family, your parish and your diocese as a startup venture, not an established corporation, by doing these things:
- Start with identity. You are a son or daughter of God who is valued beyond anything else. You are meant to be holy, glorify God, go to heaven, and get as many others to join you as you can. This is our identity, and our mission is born out of it.
- Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. Thus your Catholic parish, diocese, school, etc., also exists to make disciples, nurture disciples and send them back out to the world.
- Be bold and creative. Use this time wisely to plan for the future, not look to the past.
- Do what you need to do to grow as a disciple of Jesus. Find help if you need it. Reboot your prayer life. Ask others to join you in growing as a disciple. Start to grow your skill in sharing your faith. Use the multitude of resources we now have. Learn about an area of Catholicism you are ignorant of. Find others to accompany.
- If you are a Catholic leader, seek out others who have walked this path before you and can help. Find a mentor. Be humble enough to say you don’t have all the answers because none of us do. The current opportunity for renewal is unparalleled in our lifetimes.
This pandemic is a unique time with unique challenges, but God is not dormant and neither should we be nor should our institutions sit still. We need to courageously act for the good of each other and the world. So, let us set out on the path of our Lord once again. Let us be leaders for a renewed Church that starts in our own lives and spheres of influence. There really aren’t any good old days we are capable of returning to, but there may be many good days in front of us if we choose wisely.
Marcel LeJeune is the president and founder of Catholic Missionary Disciples (CatholicMissionaryDisciples.com).