This past week I read a thought-provoking article that was published in the Singapore Straits Times entitled “Will religion post-COVID-19 be more personal, less communal?” In the article, the author begins by stating that “the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of religious life, given its huge communal and collective dimensions”. At a time when returning to Church seems so impersonal, I can’t help but wonder what will this new normal be, at least until a vaccine is found? Even though faith is a personal encounter with God, the expression of faith is most often seen vividly when it is expressed within the context of a community and even more through communal worship.
Last Sunday when we opened the Church for Mass, I could not help but feel a grave absence of the warmth and friendship that I had grown accustomed to before, during, and after Mass. It seemed like a group of strangers had come to Mass and compounded by the fact that parishioners were not allowed to mingle and requested to leave immediately without the possibility of lingering and greeting fellow parishioners. Reflecting on what took place last weekend, for me personally, apart from the “rituals”, everything else did not seem like a gathering of a faith family/community.
In the midst of all these new norms and challenges, in the gospel today Jesus tells His disciples “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”. In the past, we have looked at this passage as Jesus’ invitation to cast all our troubles on Him. However, in this new normal, I would like to invite all of us to look at this from another perspective.
The challenge to our expression of faith in this pandemic recovery period is the ‘burden of individualism and isolation’. Since the start of this pandemic, our expression of faith has been individualistic, isolated, and even virtual from the comforts of our home. It is quite easy to succumb to the temptation of becoming accustomed to these personalistic ways of expressing and living the faith. The “rest and consolation” that we perhaps need to be mindful is to reintegrate the fellowship aspect which is central to the Christian community.
Even though our Christian faith must be rooted in the depth of each person’s heart and soul, our communal life as Church is vital. In this post-pandemic era, it is the communal life that is under threat. In the second reading St Paul speaks of the Spirit of God that is living in each one of us and since the Spirit of God comes from the communion of the Blessed Trinity, we too must belong to a communion of community – a personal faith community and not just a virtual community.
As we come back to Church, let’s take a moment to remember that the Church is neither a building nor just a service, it is not about an individual, but it is built through the hearts of a vibrant diverse community – like you and me. Though the author of the above-mentioned article opines that religion may become less communal in this new era, let us not give up on rebuilding the communal life because that is what defines who we are as Church – a community of believers. Amen.