I’ve never liked the phrase “the new normal.” To me it always seemed just a nice way of saying, “Don’t get your hopes up. It’s not going to be like it was.”
But “the new normal” is a phrase we’ve been hearing a lot lately as quarantine restrictions begin to loosen up. The threat of this virus is far from over, and that means we will have to keep wearing masks, social distancing, and limiting unnecessary trips out of the house—especially for those of us in the “vulnerable” category.
We will especially have to get used to a “new normal” when it comes to church. Mass won’t be like it was before the pandemic. We will be sitting further apart, and we will probably be wearing masks. Because of the potential health risks, many people will not be able to go at all.
Things will change, yes. But some things never change, including the power of the gospel message. As Paul once wrote while he himself was in prison and in chains, “The word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9). It will be proclaimed—in different ways, perhaps. But it can’t be stopped.
The Word of God Can’t Be Chained.
That’s been evident to me these past two months. When the lockdown began, I happened to stumble upon a thirty-day at-home online retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was being presented by a parish priest from Louisiana. All I had to do each morning was click on the parish website, which took me to a ten- or fifteen-minute YouTube video. The pastor giving this retreat said he had planned it for his parishioners. He thought he’d get fifty participants. But on the day it first appeared, his video had 15,000 views. That’s the power of the gospel—it can’t be chained.
I have heard of Bible study groups that have continued to meet over Zoom, and Alpha courses completed and started again online. Some have lamented that it’s not the same as relating to people in person—and it’s not. But think of the potential reach of such online offerings. Some people who might never step into a church may just decide to check out an evangelization course or watch Mass online and discover at last the God who loves them personally and unconditionally.
New Opportunities to Share the Gospel.
For the past two thousand years, wherever the gospel has been preached with power and authority, people have responded. That’s because they encounter not just the person preaching but the living God. It’s in times like these that people are more open to the gospel message; in fact, online searches for the word “prayer” have surged during this crisis. What an opportunity we all have to reach out to someone who is lonely, hurting, lost, or in need—even if it’s online or from six feet away! I’m confident that the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire all of us to think of new and creative ways to share Christ with other people.
I have to admit that I’m looking forward to returning to the “old normal.” But in some ways, things will never be the same. God has opened new doors for us to bring his saving message to more and more of his beloved people, doors that will remain open long after this crisis has passed. And that shouldn’t surprise us. Why? Because we can always count on God to bring something good out of even the most terrible situation. And because of the power of the gospel. Nothing can chain the word of God—not even a virus!
Thirty Days with St. Ignatius
A Retreat You Can Do at Home