Lord willing, we all are hoping to get back to “normal” sometime this year. Yet, what will the “new normal” look like once the pandemic is past? How has this new life of social distancing, wearing masks and being concerned of getting the virus or passing the virus on to others changed us? What long-term impact will the pandemic have in our lives? Has the past year permanently changed us, our relationships with others, and even our understanding of God and His Church?
These are serious questions to reflect upon and to pray about. The pandemic has presented a serious challenge for all of us, but hopefully it has also acted as a wake up call which will help us see more clearly what is most important in life.
When I was sick with COVID for 15 days, feeling miserable with a fever, body aches and extreme fatigue, the experience helped me appreciate life, health, my family and friends, and even my faith and the Church in so many ways I too often took for granted. Not serving in the Divine Liturgy for three Sundays in a row was the longest I was away from the church in my entire life. Some days when I felt too tired to even pray reminded me of how precious the treasure of faith is that we have. I sincerely missed seeing people even for those three weeks, and realized what a special gift we have in friends and in Church family!
I am praying that this pandemic and the time some people are having away from the church will only help them come to a new realization of what a special gift we have in our community of faith. Hopefully we’ve come to understand that despite the unexpected challenges of this pandemic, and the surprising events of whatever life may bring, God is still always with us. In fact, God’s presence is sometimes most consciously felt when we face the extreme difficulties and challenges of life, and hopefully the pandemic has made us realize this.
To be honest, though, I’m not sure everyone will come to the same conclusions that I have reached. I’ll admit that I am praying for everyone to come to a renewed relationship with God and a deeper appreciation of their faith and our Church Family during the pandemic, yet I am also afraid that the difficulties of this past year may only have disconnected too many people from the Church, the community of faith, from one another, and even from one’s relationship with God.
I’m concerned that too many people haven’t been to Church in almost a year. Others have come to worship and shared in Christ-centered fellowship very sporadically. Habits are being solidified where Sunday is no longer the Day of the Lord, the Day of Resurrection, the Sabbath Day which we consciously dedicate to God in a special way. Early on during the pandemic, some people found comfort in worshiping and participating via the live stream services our churches offer. Yet, watching the Divine Liturgy or some other service on television is not the same as participating in person, where we receive the life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and share in the nourishing Christ-centered fellowship of our Church Family. Someone commented to me that watching the services on live stream compared to participating in person is similar to looking at a beautiful scene of a summer day at the beach on TV compared to being present and experiencing the warmth of the sun, smelling the ocean air, and jumping in the refreshing water. Watching someone on TV can never be compared or replace the actual experience of being there, especially in the worship and fellowship of the Church.
So what is happening with each one of us? How are we adapting? Are we aware of the changes that may be occurring in our lives and in the new habits that are being formed? The Christian life has always been about spiritual disciplines. Disciplines don’t come about automatically and are not easy to develop. They take time and effort. They take sincerity of heart and desire.
We live in a secular world that tempts us to compartmentalize our faith into a small corner of our life, to minimize the importance of our relationship with God, or even to focus on the material world and the here and now instead of remembering that we are but sojourners during a very brief life on planet earth. We discover the answers to the deepest questions of life, we find the purpose and meaning of why we exist, and we discover a path of peace, hope, love and joy when we make a priority our pursuit for God. May we not give in to the temptations of our secular society and may this pandemic only highlight our need to always “seek first the kingdom of God.”
For those I haven’t seen in church, I miss you dearly. I missed not coming to your house for the annual blessing. Yet, you are still in my continual prayers and thus, you are close to my heart.
With much love and hope in Christ Jesus,