“Someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18)
The painful lesson we are being taught is that we are not in control. We have lived for a long time thinking that we can control and manipulate things to our advantage. We have put our trust in our technology and sophistication. We believe that the complex systems we have created will endure and be our safety net. We have, if we admit it, been arrogant.
Instead of being stewards of creation we have attempted in vain to subdue it. An unforeseen virus has stopped us in our tracks. We stare our vulnerability in the face, a vulnerability that dispels the illusion that we are in control.
After the death of Jesus, the disciples had to learn the same hard lesson. Their hopes were dashed when all they had invested in had seemingly come to an end. They realised that, in the end, they were not in control. That was not the only lesson they learnt.
There is another lesson we need to learn too. Things will not go back to be as they were. Any semblance of ‘normal’ is going to take time to be realised. We live in an illusion if we think that our lives will be ‘glued back together’ in a few weeks’ time. We are in an economic mess. Before the virus our unemployment rate was high. It will be higher now. People are starving. People have died and more will die. The psychological effects of this pandemic will haunt us for a long time. We have to face facts.
We have also to face the fact that the Church will not go back to how it was two months ago. Social distancing and limitations on gatherings are likely to continue to affect our gathering for worship for weeks to come. Some communities, after weeks of no income, might have to shut down. We face the unknown. Things will change; we must get our minds around inevitable change.
After the resurrection the disciples encountered change. Jesus warned Peter that someone else would gird him and take him where he did not wish to go. He had to negotiate a whole new world – the narrative of which we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the disciples learnt they were not in control, God was. They adapted and changed to take the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth, no matter, in the end, the cost.
There are changes we will have to negotiate. Such as the digital church being the way we are church for a while – and maybe even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The essential role media and communications will play in keeping the larger Church connected. The way we administer sacraments (and by who) will need to be pondered. How do we form our young people in the faith when there is no formal religious education? Our focus may well shift from Sunday Mass to everyday ministry so that the Church is not just part of people’s lives on Sunday and absent the rest of the week. It will force us to think again about homily quality. People now know they have a choice and in the absence of Holy Communion are seeking this nourishment more discerningly. How will we sustain ourselves financially – we will have to embrace a simpler lifestyle; the many poor, and not our self-preservation. There may be many more considerations.
We are being girded and taken to places we do not want to go.
All this will need visionary and inspired leadership. In the Acts of the Apostles we see how, embracing change, Peter gives himself over to the lead of the Holy Spirit and becomes that leader. He is not afraid of the challenge that lies ahead. Neither should we be. We will be afraid – and fail – if we still think we can control and manipulate things ‘back to normal’ and not embrace the lessons and change coronavirus has thrust open us.
We are powerless and we are moving into the great unknown. If we accompany each other as Jesus did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, our eyes will be opened to what we did not see before. There will be a changed (resurrected) life after this pandemic for us too.
We have decided, for the length of the lockdown, to continue offering daily reflections on the daily Easter Scripture readings. Subscribe to our database to receive them.
The Institute has also begun packing food parcels for those who are desperate. If you can help us, a contribution would be appreciated.
Our series The Journey continues this week. Every day at midday, we release a new edition. In the week ahead we will reflect on: Gender-based violence, personal learnings in lockdown, feeling ‘the blues’, meditation and the mantra, and self-compassion.
Remember too that we have trained spiritual directors available for anyone who feels that they need spiritual support. Please contact us and we will connect you with someone confidentially.
Let us unite in prayer for the sick, the traumatised, the starving, those who have died and all those who sacrifice and continue to work in essential services. We pray too for God’s Holy Spirit to help us embrace the change we are living in.
Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
Director: Jesuit Institute South Africa