Our "New Normal?"
Over the last week, as this situation with the coronavirus has escalated and engulfed every element of our lives, from toilet paper to touching our faces, I’ve had conversations with many friends and colleagues about what we are doing to respond to the difficulties that we face. Many of them have said that they are adapting, and many of our priests and pastoral ministers have adopted creative ways to do ministry in the absence of physical proximity.
“I guess this is the ‘new normal’,” many have said.
To which, I reply, “This isn’t normal!” It’s new, yes; but this isn’t normal, nor should we be content with it as if it were normal.
Our readings this weekend, and particularly the encounter of the blind man with Jesus, offer us a way of approaching and understanding our own current situation in light of our faith.
First, we are taught that God’s idea of “normal” is not the same as ours. As Samuel is sent to anoint the future king of Israel, he looks for the strong, the powerful, and the important among the sons of Jesse. None of the impressive boys who come before him is God’s choice, though. In fact, it is the one whom no one bothered to invite – David the shepherd – whom God has set aside as His anointed one. Don’t think that, as a disciple, you have any control over what is “normal” for God!
Paul calls the Ephesians in the Second Reading away from “the fruitless works of darkness” – even if everyone agrees they are fine. “Normal,” for the Christian, is new and different, and it leads us into the light – as well as leading others into that light. It is the normalcy of discipleship.
The blind man in the Gospel, whom Jesus encounters rather freely (he didn’t seek Christ out or anything; Jesus just engages him), finds out what a “new normal” really is. It doesn’t come from reacting or from following others. Instead, the “new normal” comes from a personal encounter with the Lord – and encounter that changes his life. Now, his “normal” is upended; light is shone into the darkness; and he sees clearly for the first time. There’s nothing normal about it, but it is certainly new!
This is what we are supposed to experience. There is nothing “normal” about what we are going through right now. However, it is in just these sorts of strange and abnormal moments that God’s power is more evident, and it is right here that Jesus chooses to encounter us. The blind man recognizes this. He says, “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind” and “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” Only the encounter with Christ makes this possible. He was one way before, and now he is totally different.
God’s ways are not our ways. Why would we expect God’s “normal” to be the same as ours? The challenge for us as children of God is to make God’s normal our normal. The longing that we feel to be near others should be normal. The desire that we feel to come to church and touch Jesus in the Eucharist, to receive His Body and Blood, should be normal. The idea that we can gather in our homes as families and talk about faith and pray and share our relationship with Jesus should be normal.
These are things that we are being forced to do now because of the virus; but what if this is also Jesus initiating and encounter with us – like with the blind man – and calling us to a deeper, clearer way of seeing? What if, in the midst of all this abnormality, we are being invited to embrace a “new normal” when the fog of the virus lifts?
When the blind man finally encountered people who paid him little attention before, he was a sign to them of God’s merciful power, present in Jesus. He witnessed to Christ as a prophet and the Son of Man and Lord. He became a disciple because he had met Jesus and he was completely changed. He embraced a new normal.
What if, as we finally emerge from our homes and quarantines, we open our mouths to share our experience of an encounter with Jesus? What if we were keenly aware of our call to a personal relationship with Jesus and sought to share that with others? What if we felt like it was normal to be knowledgeable about our faith and the Scriptures and the Church’s mission in the world? What if our new normal meant that when people heard from us they were going to be hearing about Christ?
Maybe that is what we are encountering today. This is certainly not a normal time. Like I said, it is new, but we are a little bit away from normal. The question now is, what will that normal be? Will it be just like before; or will it be a world-changing new normal?