Back to normal! What normal?
Returning to normal requires us to ask ourselves: exactly what normalcy do we want to return to?
The excitement of returning to some form of normalcy has pervaded our society and our religious communities. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has really put a strain on our lives.
It’s amazing how much we take for granted: health, other people, the structures that regulate our coexistence, the little things in life, etc. It gives us a feeling of normalcy.
We have been very successful as a company in controlling the virus in recent months. Nevertheless, a large portion of the American population is still unvaccinated. Most people around the world still do not have access to the vaccine and adequate medical treatment for contracting the virus.
Any return to normalcy must go hand in hand with a sober recognition that for millions of people in our society, life will not be the same as it was before the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people are gone forever. Millions of people will not find their jobs. We have lost Catholic churches, hundreds of Catholic schools, and many Catholics may simply not return to religious practice.
We have learned a lot since the start of the pandemic. I strongly disagree with the suggestion that 2020 was a “lost year” or “the year that was not”. No, we cannot forget or ignore 2020. We are different as individuals, as a society and as a Church because of this.
We have an obligation to affirm the lessons learned. The generosity that many have shared with those in need, the deep sense of solidarity that many have shown during difficult times, the courage of essential workers, the inspiring work of scientists and medical staff, the resilience of families and the creativity of believers to practice their faith, among many others.
A return to normalcy must also take into account our shortcomings. The pandemic has revealed how fractured our society and even our Church are, in large part due to poisoned ideological polarization that seems too willing to sacrifice the common good to advance particular interests.
Many dysfunctional realities in our society and our Church have of course preceded this global health crisis. The pandemic, however, has revealed that much of what we consider normal should not or should not have been, and we must consider the implications of such renewed awareness.
Returning to normal requires us to ask ourselves: what exactly do we want to return to?
Before the pandemic, many of our Catholic communities struggled to be truly welcoming to the rapidly growing Hispanic population. Many of our pastoral leaders have found it difficult in their homilies and activities to unambiguously address and denounce the sin of racism.
Many Catholics got carried away by speeches that treated immigrants, refugees and the poor as threats. Others seemed too at peace with speeches that scorn the life and dignity of every human person, from the womb to the grave.
For decades our Church has seen how millions of young Catholics and their families drift away from our communities. We seem unable to engage them and do not respond to their questions and concerns. Catholics seem to want much more than masses inside a building.
If the return to normal means a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, I feel little appetite for it, especially among young people. If that means ignoring the lessons learned during this crisis, the suffering and loss of those for whom life will no longer be “normal”, then I don’t want to be part of that normal.
I encourage pastoral leaders, educators, parents, and others in the coming months to engage in thoughtful conversations about what it means to get back to normal and to create the spaces to do so. Let us not miss this opportunity to accompany each other.
– Hosffman Ospino is Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Education in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College.
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