Saturday of the Third Week of Easter
Nagsimula na tayo sa Extended Community Quarantine (ECQ) dito sa NCR at sa iba pang lugar hanggang May 15. Marami na ang naghahangad na matapos na ang ECQ at makabalik sa ‘normal.’ However, people are coming to terms with the reality that there NO return to the same normal. That’s why people are talking about the ‘new normal’.
What is this new normal that we are awaiting? Who will shape this new normal? The corona virus threat will be with us for a long while until a vaccine is found possibly 18 months from now. Many will still get sick, many will die, and many will recover. We will have to learn to be conscientious in wearing masks whenever we go out, keep physical distancing, avoid crowds, and wash our hands thoroughly very often.
We will face a school system that may have to try the so called ‘blended learning’, a mix of online classes and face-to-face classes. We will face a possible massive unemployment/recession leading to closures of businesses. It all looks very dire and bleak. We may be looking at a long, straight tunnel with no light at the end of it but more likely looking at it, as some one suggested, a long tunnel with many bends which makes it hard to see the light even if it were near.
But Pope Francis insists that the pandemic can be a place of our metanoia/conversion and we must take advantage of it. What does this mean? The pandemic has exposed and heightened the gross inequalities in our society and of the world. Those of us who are well-to-do can stay home, have food to eat, watch cable TV, Netflix, or surf on Wi-Fi. We can go out in our cars with a pass, buy essential items and medicines without being harassed by authorities. Whereas, the poor are crammed in their homes with no physical distancing and have to wait for government relief. If this is not forthcoming, they have to go out to sell/to earn money to buy food and get manhandled in the process by abusive authorities.
Now, seriously, do we as a society want to go back to that normal when this pandemic is over? We honor our medical personnel—nurses and doctors, janitors, delivery boys, garbage collectors, and grocery staff as HEROES. Now, when this pandemic is over will we still honor them by paying the just wages/remuneration that is due to them? Will we give them the real value of their services?
This is the conversion that is needed at this time of the pandemic especially at this time of Easter. We are awed by the generosity of individuals, rich and poor, and big corporations showing solidarity to those most impacted by COVID-19. There is an outpouring of support for PPEs, food packs for frontliners, food for the hungry, the urban poor. Our eyes have been opened to our common humanity and the suffering especially of the most vulnerable in society.
The pandemic offers us an opportunity to a long term commitment to create this new normal, the old normal is gone and we don’t want to look back to it. Like the Israelites when they were freed from slavery in Egypt, they found themselves in the desert, hungry and thirsty and complaining to Moses and wanting to go back. They must not go back because Yahweh had promised them a new land, a new life which awaits them. They were being asked to put their faith and trust in the Lord. Like what we heard in the Gospel today, we are invited to trust fully in Jesus Christ:
“As a result of this (discourse of Jesus as the Bread of Life), many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6: 66-69)
The pandemic invites us first to a personal conversion, then to a community conversion, national conversion and a world conversion to respond to the SUFFERING of the world, to embrace a vocation of solidarity. I think of governments wishing to bail out banks and businesses but will they also bail out the health care systems of their countries?
Let me end by quoting from Dean Brackley from his book, ‘The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times”:
These turbulent times disclose our need for a discipline of the spirit. To respond to our world we must get free to love. That involves personal transformation, which includes coming to terms with evil in the world and in ourselves, accepting forgiveness ‘and changing.
We don’t want to go back to the old normal, we dream of a new normal—a world where peace and justice prevail, where poverty is banished, where mother earth is cared for, and where humanity is reconciled with God in his love and mercy.
Fr. Primitivo Viray, SJ
Provincial Superior, Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus