We cannot go back to normal. Regardless of the repeated cries within the Church to return to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic slows, we cannot afford to go back to normal. The status quo before this pandemic was spiritually killing many of us. We were caught in patterns of mediocrity, apathy, acedia, and worldliness. Christ, in His mercy, has given us an opportunity to begin anew with our eyes firmly fixed on Him.
The statistics about the state of the Church going into the pandemic are staggering. Nearly 70% of Catholics deny Christ’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. This is absolutely central to our faith, and yet, the majority of Catholics deny this truth and think we come to Mass to ingest a wafer and drink a bit of wine. The re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross that takes place at every Mass is completely lost on the majority of Catholics. This fact should both break our hearts and set us on fire with righteous anger as to how this could happen.
In a Pew Research Study in 2016, 89% of Catholics rejected the Church’s teaching on contraception. Nearly 64% of Catholics said homosexual behavior is acceptable and 47% said that transgender individuals should be able to use the bathroom of their choice. These numbers are from five years ago, and given the state of the culture and the Church today, they have certainly shifted to some extent even further away from Church teaching.
This is the state of Christ’s Church in the United States. The vast majority of Catholics live in opposition to the teachings of the Church or are ambivalent about those teachings. This means that many Catholics do not understand core tenets of our faith and do not understand the purpose of the moral law, marriage, family life, and religious liberty. In other words, these Catholics would persecute their brothers and sisters in Christ in order to protect the “freedoms” of those who are living objectively gravely sinful lives. Over half, 54% of Catholics, said that companies should be forced to provide services to gay couples in violation of their religious beliefs and our calling to serve God, not man.
What about the state of things tells us we should return to normal? That going back to the mediocre status quo we were living before this pandemic is the right path? Our lives of comfort, security, pleasure, and a misguided freedom have led the Church to a place where the majority of her members do not believe in Christ’s teachings, which means they do not believe in Him. They are not evangelized. They live compartmentalized lives where they come to Mass on Sunday, commit sacrilege by partaking of Holy Communion with absolutely no concern for Who they are receiving, seldom or never go to Confession, and then leave out the church doors to live predominately secular lives.
These issues have grown worse in the last 1.5 years of the pandemic. The Mass and the Sacraments were locked away from many Catholics who were told to watch livestream Masses. The ordinary means of grace and the spiritual nourishment we need to progress in holiness appeared unimportant or optional. For months the hierarchy told us to “stay safe” and to place the body above the spirit. What we were left with was an inordinate emphasis on safety, liability, security, and money throughout the pandemic that has left many devout Catholics disillusioned and feeling like spiritual orphans.
Now that we are moving towards more access to the Mass, Sacraments, and parish life there is a strange excitement to return to normal. A normal that was literally spiritually killing the vast majority of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no going back unless we want to drop to the Mass attendance levels of Europe. That is exactly where we are heading right now because we refuse to change course. We have reduced the life of the Catholic to Sunday Mass attendance and a punch card mentality. As long as we go to Mass on Sunday and we are a “nice” person, then we will go to heaven. We have forgotten that Christ tells us the path to eternal life is through the “narrow gate” of holiness. Instead, the vast majority of Catholics follow the heresy of moralistic therapeutic deism rather than Catholicism. This is why so many Catholics can claim that grave sin is no big deal.
Why are we so content with watching the Church sink in the West? It is because we cling to safety, security, pleasure, freedom, and comfort above all else. The same is true of the hierarchy. In some mysterious way, the pandemic was God’s way of pruning our inordinate desire for comfort and safety, but we missed the much needed spiritual lesson. Instead, much like the Israelites, we want to go back to Egypt even though they were enslaved by the Egyptians. We want to go back to those things that enslave us and pretend as if this is the authentic spiritual life. We want to remain adrift in acedia, spiritual indifferentism, relativism, mediocrity, and the utter paralysis of comfort.
The Church is in significant danger in the West. Now is the time to take the path to holiness seriously. We must boldly and radically live the Gospel, even if others hate us, persecute us, and deride us. The saddest truth about the Christian life is that it is often our own brothers and sisters in Christ lost in worldly desires who will persecute us the most. We need to decide now whether we belong to Christ or the world and then begin living as authentic disciples.
It’s time to fight the spiritual battles necessary to overcome our own attachments to sin and the things of this world. To be people of deep prayer, penance, and sacrifice. We must come to understand that the Cross is non negotiable. This life is not meant to be one of comfort, pleasure, and ease. We are called to union with Christ, which means crucifixion. It means lifting high the Cross in a culture and a Church that has forgotten that salvation comes through Christ alone. Being a “nice” person—whatever this even means—is not good enough. That is the wide path of destruction, not the narrow way of Our Savior.
Do not go back to normal. Fight against the temptation and propensity within your parish, family, and friends to return to normal. The status quo within the Church is failing miserably, and yet, we keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results. Until we begin to pray and seek the face of Christ within our parishes and our families, nothing will change. Until we dedicate our lives to pursuing holiness above all else, we will not see any change take place. We will remain spiritually listless or spiritually blind or dead. Only a total dependence on Christ will lead us out of this present darkness into His radiant light.