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Help from on high

When the world needs the wisdom, experience and guidance of the Church, why is it not getting it?

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Help from on high
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The online edition of The New York Times offers instruction on meditation for those who are forced by the pandemic to remain at home and deal with the various stresses the situation imposes upon us.

When it first became apparent that much of the world would be entering life in isolation, that same newspaper carried an essay with practical advice on how to live a cloistered life. It was penned by a pair of astronauts and was based upon their experience in space. Months in a space station certainly qualifies one to give advice on social isolation. Unlike those of us stuck in our homes, astronauts cannot even open a window to get a breath of fresh air or hear some birdsong.

In Japan, a newspaper article based upon interviews with Japanese astronauts says, “one takeaway from the astronauts’ story might be the importance of taking a proactive approach to self-isolation, pointing out that astronauts try to enjoy the stress when it is unavoidable.” (Italics added.) It goes on to quote one of the astronauts, “Solutions are inside you. Seeing things, experiencing things, and thinking them through to find your answers will be important.”

When secular media in super-secular places like New York and Tokyo are doing the work of spiritual guides by giving advice on simple living and mindfulness, their creative responses to the situation and their readers’ ultimately spiritual needs should interest believers.

It raises a question, though. Where are the Church’s cenobites (monks and nuns) and anchorites (hermits)? We have had them for well over a millennium and a half. Why are we not receiving hints, instruction, advice and cautions from people who theoretically at least are specialists in living either in community or alone with limited connection to the world outside? Shouldn’t their vocations be of special service to the rest of us at this time above all? What sort of demons might we encounter, and how might we face them down? To what sort of graces might we aspire?

Perhaps I have not looked in the right places to receive those insights. But where should I look?

That raises another and broader question. Why when the world needs the wisdom, experience and guidance of the Church is it not getting it? Are we looking in the wrong places? Is what we need being presented in the wrong places or in ways that do not reach people? Or is there really nothing of worth out there being offered to us?

Generally speaking, the management of the Church (they are clearly not leaders) has failed in the face of this challenge. Instead of thinking about how we can live and grow in this time of challenge, they focus on resuming as soon as possible what was done before, too often without respecting the fact that viruses are not bound by the wishes or directives of bishops and pastors.

They are not offering real sustenance at this time. We need guidance in seeking meaning at a time when the wisdom of the world can only offer raw facts. We need to be drawn together in new ways though isolated in order to pray, to share, to challenge, to serve. We need enlightenment to see how what we are passing through is related to the Paschal Mystery we could not celebrate and meditate upon together in the Lent and Easter seasons.

For the most part we are told — rightly — what not to do: mainly, don’t gather in churches. We are not being given realistic growth-supporting, faith-deepening alternatives. Instead, we are “offered” mere spiritual and liturgical voyeurism, watching from afar as a cleric “celebrates” (actually “imitates”) our communal breaking of bread. Is this the best we can offer, the opportunity to stare at a screen while someone eats and drinks on our behalf, beggar children looking in a restaurant window?

Specialists have warned for decades that what we are facing today and worse were inevitable, yet lack of reflective creativity has combined with a failure to have in place contingency plans and effective means of communication so that insights and guidance can actually reach people. We must get to work without waiting for this pandemic to ease so that we are ready for the next crisis, whether medical, environmental, political or social.

And there shall be new crises. This pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our lives, our societies and our economies is merely the latest in a series that is not going to stop marching through the world once this particular one is subdued or has run its course. There will be more, and worse.

When that or some other disaster occurs, will hope from out of this world come through the Church or must we still rely upon astronauts?

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William J. Grimm, MM


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