Nothing happens outside of God’s providence and foreknowledge. Events might seem dire or confusing when they happen. Occurrences might seem unrelated to other events. Everything is in fact at least allowed by God, if not directly willed.
This scriptural truth seems all the more necessary to remember these days. The personal, economic, and social fallout from COVID-19 is immense. As painful as it has been, COVID-19 has also served as a catalyst that’s forcing change in significant ways. Schools have had to make the transition to online learning. In the process they are finding alternatives for the future. These might positively transform education and bridge inequity. Organizations have discovered that employees can effectively work from home. This trend is likely to grow. Families have re-discovered the value of time together. They are eating meals together. They are going for walks, playing games, and enjoying one another’s company in new ways. Many families have gained a fresh perspective on what it means to be “the domestic church.”
COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for various sectors of life in our country. In the Church it seems to be acting more as an accelerant. Parishioners, parish leadership, Parish Staff, and I have become convinced about the truth revealed in Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We see this as an opportunity, whereby God is allowing us to rethink and re-imagine what a Catholic parish can be. Detroit priest Father John Ricciardi argues that, “Now is the time to prayerfully and with the utmost confidence in the Risen Lord Jesus retool our parishes. They can become centers of excellence. This can be the case for the priests that serve there. It can be so for the lay staff that serves alongside them. The faithful in the pews; the fallen away, the unchurched in the community can be examined with new eyes.”
Over the past number of years, many dioceses have had to deal with a challenging landscape. They have had to plan for massive priestly retirements. They have seen declining vocations. They are experiencing limited financial resources. They are dealing with inadequate staffing. A growing exodus from the Church—especially among the young, continues. Attempts have been made with the best of intentions to face these, and other, pressing matters. Parishes have closed, clustered, or merged. These actions have often caused great emotional and spiritual pain to the faithful. Often, it has also added to the exhaustion of priests and the staff that serve with them.
Why? Many attempts have addressed symptoms rather than the root causes underlying them. The tendency has been to “tweak” or “band-aid” the problems in parish and priestly life. Few have totally re-imagined what a parish can be. For this to occur, an accurate, honest assessment must be carried out. We must re-configure out thinking about parishes, priestly life, and effective ways to share the Gospel.