The St. Ann Lay Preaching team have been giving reflections during our Zoom services, and some Masses, during Lent. Here is Pat’s reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent:
Lenten Refection for the 5th Sunday of Lent
We Are Not Ever Getting Back to “normal” – And We Shouldn’t
“Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
- We have been hearing one question over and over for a year. “When are we getting back to ‘normal’?” – as if “normal” was a place we used to live, a country we left in our childhood, a house we grew up in. We ask this question with a sense of longing, a nostalgia for a time already clouded over in our memory with foggy and rose-colored glasses. We hanker to get back to “normal” even though we didn’t think of that now misty time as “normal” when we were in the middle of it. Back then it was just ordinary, or even boring, and often difficult, unsettling, or troubling. We certainly didn’t think of it as anything special, certainly not anything we would miss if it was taken away. But now we log to get back to ”normal” as if it was our lost homeland.
- But, of course, we are not going back to “normal” – at least not if “normal” means back where we were before COVID or the rest of 2020 happened. We’re not going back to that “normal” because we can’t and because we shouldn’t. As Jesus instructs us in John’s Gospel today, unless a grain of wheat dies and is put in the ground it never gives life or becomes what it’s supposed to be. If we cling to the present or recent past, if we refuse to let go and let God, if we refuse to die and be reborn, we never grow.
- First, we are not going back to ”normal” after COVID, or after everything that happened in the last year, because the world is always changing – and it is often changing because the old “normal” wasn’t really working – at least not for the long haul, or for everyone. We can’t go back to the old normal because normal broke down and threw us into this crisis or moment. The past is not a country we can visit. It is a shrinking image in the rearview mirror – and nostalgia for the past is a kind of madness – a fantasy that cannot be achieved.
- Second, we are not going back to ”normal” because the past year has revealed some very ugly things about the old “normal” – some things we can’t “un-see” no matter how we try (and God knows lots of us are trying very hard to forget what we have seen this year). In so many ways the past year has shown us that our old “normal” was unsustainable, unjust, and out of touch with reality – that our “normal” ways of running the planet, the country and the Church were just not working- and were hurting one hell of a lot of people.
- Third, we are not going back to “normal” because we are changed and different, and we can’t go back into the past any more than we should move back into our childhood bedroom (though many have had to do that in tough economic times) and our parents shouldn’t treat us like teenagers any more. We are not going back to the old normal because we are thinking, believing, feeling and acting differently.
- Lots of us hanker for the past and grieve the losses that change and growth have brought. And it makes sense to want to recover from losses or rebuild after catastrophes. But we cannot go back – and we shouldn’t. We have to die to the past if we are going to live in the present and give birth to the future.
- COVID was not a Blip – But a Sign of What’s to Come. We are not going to get back to ”normal” after COVID because this pandemic is almost certainly not a singular, unrepeatable event from which we can recover and return to yesteryear. If anything, it is the first of a number of events that are changing our world, and it is a warning of how serious these changes may be and of how poorly we have been and might still respond to them.
- In the years and decades ahead other global challenges and catastrophes will knock us down and move us into a very different future – indeed they are already doing so. COVID is both a part and a harbinger of a series of unsettling changes that have already begun, and that we have too long ignored. And it is a reminder that we need to pay attention to the warnings we have already received about pandemics, rising seas, fires, storms and mass migrations – and a reminder that we do not always respond well to crises and that burying our heads in the sand and clinging to the past is a recipe for failure.
- There is no point pretending we are ever getting back to a pre-COVID normal. We are entering a new, different, and unfolding ”normal”– and this unsettling and frightening “normal” is largely the result of our failure to acknowledge and change what was wrong with the old “normal.” We are in the trouble we’re in now and headed for worse trouble to come because we have tried so desperately to cling to our gas-guzzling and then fracking “normal” when so many were warning us it wasn’t working. And – unbelievably – so many of us still think we can go back to the old “normal” even as the seas rise, the fires burn, the storms rage and the refugees pour across our borders.
- Our Global Pre-COVID ”normal” Wasn’t Sustainable. We are not going back to pre-COVID ”normal” because our “normal” arrangements of power & wealth and our patterns of consumption and disposal were not sustainable. We are not getting back to ”normal” because for a long time we have been exploiting and injuring our Mother and Sister Earth faster than She can repair and replenish Herself. We are not getting back to ”normal” because in our old familiar ”normal” we have long been stripping the soil from our land, emptying our oceans of their fishes, cutting down all our forests, and filling our skies with greenhouse gases. We are not getting back to normal, because in our old ”normal” we were not taking enough care of things, we weren’t investing enough in the futures of our children and grandchildren, we weren’t spending enough to preserve and protect our roads and bridges, our supply of clean water, safe power. The old normal, where “coal was king,” where we chanted “drill, baby, drill!” where fracking was our salvation – was a house on fire, and we cannot go back into a burning building.
- Our National ”normal” was Unjust & Racist. We also cannot go back to the old normal in this country because the past year has uncovered how unjust, racist and corrupt it is. For over four years lots of Americans have been expressing their longing for an old “normal” when minorities and immigrants were effectively excluded from the American dream, and acting out a terror of a future where whites are no longer the ensconced and powerful majority. But we cannot go back to that old ”normal” in the US – the normal of Jim Crow segregation or mass incarceration, redlining, voter suppression, Confederate monuments, police shootings or environmental injustice because so many more of us have finally seen how unjust, racist and corrupt the underbelly of the old “normal” actually was. Once you’ve seen how the sausage is made, there no re-ordering that dish.
- COVID pulled back the veil on racial and economic injustice in our society, showing us in stark relief just how separate, unequal and unjust our nation is – how underpaid, unprotected and expendable our essential workers are – and how often they are women, immigrants and people of color. COVID showed us just how different the lives, health outcomes, and prospects are for the rich and poor in this country, how much harder life is for women, people of color and immigrants, and how indifferent so many of us and our politicians are to the sufferings of others. COVID showed us who had to go to work, who got to stay home, who was doing our daycare, taking care of our elderly, who had health coverage and who didn’t, who got unemployment and who didn’t, who could escape from the cities to their vacation homes and who was living in one house with three generations of workers who had to take public transportation. COVD showed us we weren’t one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. COVID also showed us how little our politicians cared about our safety, and how millions of us thought it was too much trouble to wear a mask or wash our hands.
- And then the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others rubbed our faces in the rot and bias of our criminal justice system, and the massive explosion of the Black Lives Matter Movement showed us one more time the embedded and longstanding institutional racism permeating our society, baked into our employment structures, our housing costs, our health care availability, our educational structures, and – of course – our protection of voting rights. Instead of living in a country where Black Lives Matter we live in a nation where it matters a lot if you’re Black or White – and where it’s a lot worse if you’re Black.
- Then the political campaign, election and its aftermath forced us to see the hypocrisy and corruption of the old “normal.” We saw countless politicians bemoaning the imaginary crisis of voter fraud while doing everything in their power to suppress the vote of the poor and people of color. We saw people forced to stand in lines for hours in the middle of a pandemic just to cast a vote, we saw the number of polling stations in poorer neighborhoods slashed, politicians and government officials opposing mail-in ballots and cutting the post office’s funds for delivering ballots, all to make sure the poor and people of color could not vote. And then when they did vote in massive numbers and win by nearly 8 million ballots – we witnessed outrageous and shameless lies about the results, every kind of false claim, slander and libel uttered against anyone who wouldn’t repeat the lies, dozens of spurious cases taken to court, and – when all else failed – senators, representatives, a president and a treasonous mob trying to overturn the electoral results by fraud or force. After all of that, there is no way to overlook the corruption and injustice of the old political “normal.” We cannot go back to that.
- And Our Catholic ”normal” is Sexist & Bigoted. And we are not going back to the old “normal” because we’re different now. Because we’ve grown and changed and are not returning to our childhood homes. So when the Churches do open again after COVID we cannot go back to the old ”normal” there either. The Vatican wants us to go back to an old homophobic “normal,” where those of us in the pews silently consent to Roman pronouncements that gay marriages are sinful and don’t in any way resemble the holy sacrament of marriage. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wants priests and bishops in Germany and Belgium to stop thinking about blessing gay unions and go back to the old “normal” where everyone knew homosexual acts of love are “intrinsically disordered.” And the US Catholic Bishops want us all to return to an old “normal” where we oppose the Equality Act and let religious groups discriminate against gays and transgender people in the name of God and freedom of religion. Even after Pope Francis asked publicly what right he had to judge homosexuals and suggested that gays have a right and need for some form of legal union, our church hierarchy want us to go back to the old “normal” where our Church can’t offer a simple blessing for the unions of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Well we cannot go back to that “normal.”
- Of course, many of us always want to return to normal, and we often have great sadness, fear and anger about losing the old ”normal”– especially if that arrangement protected our (usually unacknowledged) privilege and advantage. We have a universal fear of loss that keeps us holding on to the status quo. But our fear of the loss of our normal gas guzzling way of life has brought about the present crisis, and our nostalgia for that fossil fuel way of life is tearing our world apart. So too, our nostalgia for white privilege and dominance is a racist cancer that has been inflicting pain for over 400 years, and we need to let go of the old white supremacist “normal.” And the nostalgia of our Catholic hierarchy for time when those of us in the pews sheepishly agreed to treat women and gays and transgender folks like outcasts is a sickness. Knowing what we know today about our LGBQT friends and relatives and coworkers and fellow believers – we cannot go back with our bishops and church leaders into a “normal” that is sexist and homophobic. We do not know where we are going in the future – but it is not there.
- Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that we need to die in order to be reborn. And he tells us that anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. Clinging to the past and hoping to return to an old, unsustainable, unjust and out of touch “normal” is a refusal to let go and let God. We are not ever going back to the old normal – and we never should.