Back To Normal In Un-Normal Times
Every year, I feel a little deflated after the feasts of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi. It seems as if the great spiritual journey we have been on since Ash Wednesday ends abruptly when we return to Ordinary Time in our liturgical calendar.
Lent draws us to struggle with our natures as we seek to shed the shadows within ourselves that keep us separated from Jesus.
We make physical and spiritual sacrifices to unite ourselves to Christ’s suffering, so that purged of our sins, we can rise with him into the new life of Resurrection.
Then, we are on a spiritual high through the six weeks of Easter until the Ascension.
Jesus has defeated death.
The joyful and triumphant alleluias we proclaim at each Mass make us feel as if all things are possible. The readings show us the disciples as they begin to build the Church.
Their enthusiasm and conviction in the message of Jesus (which they have finally understood) infects those who hear them, prompting them to believe the Good News.
It is a dynamic time of growth and new life.
With the disciples, we struggle with the dichotomy of presence and absence as we stand on the hill and watch Jesus disappear from sight at the Ascension.
He is gone but promises to be with us always.
He promises to send an advocate, a spirit of counsel — but compared to the physical presence of Jesus, the third person of the Trinity seems somewhat ephemeral.
During the nine days to Pentecost, we then try to come to terms with Jesus’ promise that he is with us always, even though we do not see him.
We are expectant as we pray our novenas and reflect on the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit. But we struggle with their intangibility.
Wisdom, gentleness, piety do not have the same flesh and blood quality of the physical Jesus.
Into all of this erupts the drama of Pentecost. Walls of fear are torn down. Wind and fire defy the laws of nature. The Holy Spirit emerges into this turbulence.
It is pure energy, filling the frightened disciples with such courage, such love, such missionary zeal that Peter speaks with more eloquence than he knew he had.
The voice of the Holy Spirit breaks the boundaries of religion, culture, and language, and it transforms hearts to such an extent that thousands are moved to conversion.
What an introduction to the Holy Spirit!
Another depth of emotion
And just when we think that the human spirit cannot contain any further depth of emotion, we encounter the indivisible love and unity of the Holy Trinity.
Nothing is more intimate than this triune relationship.
In that gaze between the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit who is the eternal bond of love between them, we catch a glimpse of heaven and the eternity that awaits us.
We want to remain in that love, just like the disciples who wanted to remain on the mountain at the Transfiguration. Yet, we are painfully aware that we live in a world of imperfection, suffering and pain, and we must return to it for a time.
Just as he promised, Jesus does not leave us alone. He gives himself eucharistically so that we may be one, just as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one.
Thus, we step into the last great mystery of the journey — Corpus Christi.
Two thousand years later, Jesus is as close to us as to the disciples who walked with him through Galilee and Judea and into Jerusalem.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us still—not just at Corpus Christi but every time Mass is celebrated—in his humanity and his divinity, as completely as we can possibly receive him in our human state. It is our promise of heaven here on earth.
And then, just like that, we’re plunged into Ordinary Time for some 20-odd weeks until the end of the liturgical year.
After the incredible journey we’ve been on, I’m never quite ready to descend into normality.
This year it is especially hard to return to the ordinary.
Without the physical contact of going to Mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, in the absence of our faith-sharing groups, the impulses of the Lenten and Easter journey buoyed us up and gave us the spiritual strength to overcome fear, anger, loneliness, sickness, the loss of income and freedom.
So what now? How much longer can we endure online Mass, trying to connect via video chat and encouraging messages on social media? How can we find this perfect Trinitarian unity in a country divided by politics, controversies and conspiracies?
How do we find normality in a life lived in lockdown or a fearful venturing out into the world for work, school, and grocery shopping? Without the Eucharistic presence and unable to hug and kiss our loved ones, how do we remain whole? I wonder whether that was not the experience of the early disciples too.
I imagine that the day-to-day life of building up the Church was probably mundane and ordinary.
They experienced mindblowing emotions and saw incredible things as they walked and lived with Jesus for three years.
But with time, the joy of Resurrection, the marvel of the Ascension, and the awe of Pentecost becomes a memory to be drawn on for encouragement of faith.
Instead of speaking in tongues and breaking open prison gates, the disciples had very real everyday challenges: appointing people to distribute food, worrying about the stewardship of finances, identifying leaders in each of the new communities, providing pastoral care to the new converts, dealing with interpersonal problems, and facing off against political rulers and religious leaders who felt threatened by the young Church.
The early Church Fathers didn’t have any special gifts. Like us, they were ordinary men and women who discerned that they had been called by God.
They had seen God. They had spoken to him. They had walked with him. That experience made it possible to trudge through the mundane, the ordinary.
The same is true for us.
Every year, we are taken on an incredible journey of encounter with the God of life. It is the food that prepares us for and nourishes us in the ordinariness of daily life. Perhaps that is even truer now that the distractions of our modern life have been stripped away and our existence has become very domestic.
The perfect place to rebuild the Church of Christ.