I remember the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Franciscan presence in Singapore and Malaysia in 2008, working with people as passionate about the Franciscan Order as I am. I remember too how I felt after the celebrations were over. I felt an indescribable void within, like I was a piece of dead wood drifting in the ocean, and the waves kept pushing me further and further away from the shore. I felt that I was being pulled away from any purposeful existence in my life.
When I confided in a good friend, MD, he said:
“Reinvent yourself. Repurpose your choice of being a Franciscan. Find new meaning in what you are doing. Redefine your relationship with God. Perhaps the old definitions are not working for you anymore.”
Those wise words have remained with me all these years, and MD’s suggestion to reinvent myself have become something deeply spiritual.
Reinvent yourself daily in your journey with God. A dynamic relationship with God is an invitation to look at every day with new lenses. Each new day is an opportunity to recover from mistakes made because of stupidity, selfishness and self-absorption. Each day is a new chance to experience the love of Jesus, to live with the dignity that has been given to us freely by God.
Since the celebrations in 2008, we friars in Singapore and Malaysia have reinvented ourselves in many ways. Sometimes purposefully and sometimes out of necessity. The need to remain relevant in the lives of our communities has made us find ways to stay fresh, renewed or updated even in tried and tested environments such as parishes. Old ways of doing things can lead to lost opportunities.
We are now in the midst of another chance for reinvention. The pandemic is causing much misery around the world. With millions of people dead, livelihoods destroyed, the sick unable to obtain a basic commodity like oxygen, what kind of disciples are we supposed to be in the midst of lockdowns and threats of new variants of the virus?
The resurrected carpenter from Galilee changed the lives of ordinary people by inviting them to renew and reinvent their understanding of how God was working in their world. The disciples of Jesus experienced tumultuous times, but not only did the faith survive, it thrived in many areas. History shows that difficult and challenging times were often opportunities for the Church to revisit the Gospel of Jesus and accept the invitation to authentic living.
So how do we make sense of our faith in the midst of the many challenges that we face as a Church? I submit that we accept the invitation to reinvent and renew.
As Pope Francis said in pre-COVID times, his preference is for a Church “which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”.
The Holy Father’s invitation is to all of us, not just the clergy and Religious. Pope Francis encourages us to read the spirit of the times, to not be stuck in the old ways of living our faith, to trust God and reinvent the way we live our faith.
The past 18 months or so have shown us the need to do this. In these unprecedented times, participating in the Eucharist means being quick to book Masses when the online bookings open, and only being able to do so in one parish. With the limited numbers allowed at each Mass, getting confirmation of a Mass booking is almost like winning the lottery.
For some, the trouble is not worth the effort. They do not want to compete with fellow Catholics over attendance at Mass (with all the restrictions of mask wearing, no singing and no socialising).
There is certainly an urgent need to review the way we have been practising our faith. Participating in the Eucharist is a vital part of our faith. What happens now that we are not able to attend, because of the COVID restrictions, even on a Sunday? Will some no longer see a need to attend Mass?
Reinventing necessarily means that we live our Eucharistic faith in our world. This means, as the Pope has warned us, not being “a Church that is concerned with being the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures”.
If what matters to me only is whether I can get a place in Church for Mass, then perhaps I am placing myself at the centre. The Archdiocese (of Singapore) has had to restrict the number of Masses each person can book in order to enable more to participate in the Eucharist. Do I consider others when I make my Mass bookings? Am I one of the those who made the restriction necessary?
The Eucharist is about forgiveness, inclusivity, standing against sin and injustice. The teaching of Jesus invites us to bring faith, hope and charity to others, thus becoming sacraments for them. In challenging times, we can be tempted to become self-absorbed and we cease being sacramental signs for others.
Now perhaps is the appropriate time to be the Eucharist for others.
Friar Clifford Augustine OFM