Christ’s Style Of Ministry For Post Lockdown Times
By Fr Kevin Reynolds
By coincidence the first Sunday churches were opened again after the most recent lockdown period, February 7, was the Fifth Sunday of Year B. The Gospel text for that Sunday was Mark 1:29-39. This portion of scripture, I believe, gives us the ideal style of ministry the church needs in recovering from lockdown and moving with confidence into the future.
Without a doubt, a phrase we need to avoid using and trying to practise in all spheres of our lives is “returning to business as usual.”
Covid-19 not only touched millions of people and killed thousands of them, but it affected the lives of all people in the world in one way or another. In fact, it turned our lives upside down and inside out, if only, by forcing most people to spend periods in their homes, away from their normal patterns of life and ways of earning their living.
This had a profound effect on our religious lives, too. Being confined to our homes, we could not, for instance, attend Sunday Mass and associate with our fellow parishioners.
If anything, such isolation caused by our avoiding the virus attacked the very heart of our human existence, our association with one another. I am sure those who reflected on this strange way of life became more aware of our basic human need for others. Certainly, this need is strongly fulfilled in the religious arena of our lives by our simply being together, praying with one another, receiving the Word of God and sharing the meal of Christ Himself.
Such togetherness, I contend, is the reason why many who regularly viewed Mass on line during lockdown periods often complained of it not being the same as actually attending Mass.
The usual obligation of attending Sunday Mass was lifted by the Church for lockdown periods. This experience was something totally different from what we had grown accustomed to in our lives. I won’t be surprised if some so enjoyed such freedom that they will not relish any re-imposition of obligatory Sunday Mass.
With this in mind, I think, the Church needs to seriously consider a totally different style of ministering to its members.
Perhaps every bishops’ conference needs to hold an extraordinary plenary session of its members to consider the immediate and future ways of the Church fulfilling its mission towards its people.
In discussing this issue, I humbly suggest, the Church might embrace a more Christlike style of ministry. This is where the Gospel text I alluded to (Mark 1:29-39) in my opening comes into play.
This particular text narrates how Jesus spent the whole day in the synagogue of the area he visited. Even when he repairs to the home of Peter’s mother-in-law he experiences more demands on his service, like healing his hostess and attending to the crowds who flock to him at the home where he will spend the night. The next morning when Jesus is encouraged by some of his apostles to stay where they are, he emphasises the importance of moving on, going out to others who need his ministry.
In applying this text to our present situation, I suggest, priests emulate Christ’s style of ministry by not remaining in their presbyteries, waiting for their congregations to return to them but rather, like Christ, they also need to reach out to their scattered flocks. I am sure some inventive ways of doing this can be found.
I am impressed by small groups who have continued to meet during lockdown periods to pray, reflect and discuss how their faith has been experienced and even tested by the restrictions of their isolation. On occasions, I have joined such small gatherings to share their dynamic and to celebrate Mass with them.
Continuing to minister to such faith-filled people, I contend, is certainly not a matter of returning to business as usual.
I have even heard of some families “celebrating Mass” in their homes by gathering to read the particular Sunday scriptures and praying the Mass prayers over offerings of bread and wine.
Of course, one’s Church membership can never be limited to experiencing only such gatherings, in place of Sunday Mass in their parish church. The benefit of such sharing, though, is that it reminds its participants of what their baptismal calling is and encourages them to practice their faith in their daily lives even when isolated or restricted as lockdown imposed upon them.
There are obviously many other aspects of our church membership that need to be tackled in new ways. To begin with we need to remember not to expect things to return to normal in the sense of “business as usual.”
Fr Kevin Reynolds is a priest of the archdiocese of Pretoria