Our Sunday obligation was taken away. The doors of the church closed. The rituals of Sunday mass reminding us of our Christian identity is no longer physically available. The absence of receiving the Eucharist is deeply felt by the laity. In this absence, clarity emerged that you and I are also the Eucharist to each other, and especially to others in need. The Church is not behind those closed doors, but in us.
Outside with us stands grief and hardship from this pandemic. For many around us, life has become a lot tougher. Three months into the lockdown, there is a spiritual metamorphosis happening. The Church as an institution has incubated the laity for decades, drip-feeding the power of the Gospel. Soon we will emerge from this lockdown, but we must emerge a transformed Church. This can be the great Pentecost* if we the laity emerge to be church and gospel to the people present in our daily lives.
The tide is turning. There is a marked shift towards social and economic concerns. The world needs to emerge from the lockdown despite the virus still present. As little individuals we have little sway in the decision. This is just the tick-tock of time, of developments and consequences. People are simply carried by it. The immediate post-lockdown period will not be easy as the respirator of government aids are withdrawn, and businesses will try to stand on their own again. Some will fail and people will continue to struggle getting income. Certain to emerge will be individuals who are emotionally troubled.
This is where we as laity are called to fit into the next norm. There is a purpose why we exist in our circle of family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even the occasional strangers who wander into our daily routines. Our identity as a Christian is today more pronounced than ever before; we are to be in the center of that circle, to be church and gospel to people in our lives, to be the light of hope and the salt of mercy. We are, by duty as laity, to communicate into their lives the language of God: Love.
When Pentecost day came the disciples were all in one room, when suddenly they heard a powerful wind and noise; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech. When the disciples emerged from their locked room, they preached and those assembled were each bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. “How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? We hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.” (from the First Reading)
We live in social circles. There are people present in our personal circles who are deeply troubled, bearing the painful consequences of this pandemic. We know them quite well. We know their catalysts of joy and their triggers of depression. We are privileged to know the personal details of their life. The Church as an institution cannot reach these personal depths. But the Church in us as individual laity can and must. The language of God’s love is more than just verbal. In the way we are intimate to each other in talking, listening, doing, and sharing, we are effectively communicating in a native language that only our circle can clearly understand.
Being the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, is expressed through daily, simple acts not beyond you and me. As laity, we are affirmed that a tongue of fire sits on our head. “The Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you.” Accept this affirmation and go and be church, pro-active to engage. We must give, often not only in terms of material but also more preciously in time and presence to listen and comfort, and to recognise and affirm. This native language is often expressed in the simple alphabets of a kind word, listening ear, smile or hug. Instead of just saying, “I pray for you”, realise that we are probably God’s intended angels as answers to their prayers.
This spiritual metamorphosis will release us into the next norm. The sheep has been scattered wider and farther. The Church need us the lay faithful to reach into the realities of the secular world. God will be needed in the realities of people’s struggles. And we are needed because we know the native language. We the laity make God ‘real’, more so than bible scholars and clergy. St Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words only when necessary”. This Pentecost the lay faithful is summoned to light up small tongues of fire in their social circles.
The world today is like a tree without leaves but with abundant fruit. Fallen leaves indicate impending changes and fruits indicate a ready harvest. We the lay faithful are sent into these fields of mission. Today together as one body, we can make this the great Pentecost. But we must hurry before the fruits fall into waste.
“There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose. Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ.” (Second Reading)
*Pentecost celebrates the 50th day of Easter, commemorating the descend of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other disciples, and marks the beginning of the Church’s mission to the world.