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Daniel Ang: Latest study shows us new ways forward

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Brian and Katie Rutter watch a Mass that their pastor, Father Tom Kovatch, livestreamed from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Bloomington, Ind., March 28, 2020. Catholics have employed the internet to connect with their faith and communities during shutdowns caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Katie Rutter) See HOLY-WEEK-EASTER-LIVESTREAM March 30, 2020.

The latest findings from McCrindle research substantiate the way in which the fault lines or fissures that COVID-19 has created in the lives of Australians have led to spiritual curiosity and openness with which the Church can engage.

While Australians are not known for their overt religiosity and their relative silence on matters spiritual can seem discouraging for those who seek to share their faith, this research affirms that the yearning for ‘something more’ persists among Australians.

This appetite or ache for the transcendent can come into stark relief during experiences of intense joy and suffering, when change beyond our control forces us to reassess where we stand, calling on other, deeper resources.

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Even for those who attend Mass but may not have yet given themselves fully to a personal relationship with Jesus, the restricted access to churches can initiate a personal search for ‘the more’ of the faith that the Gospel promises but seems missing in experience.

Some find themselves reading more Scripture or praying more than ever before.

Alternatively, and as it is feared, others may never return to our parishes if their experience of local community has been poor or their spiritual sensibility has not deepened beyond the transactional ethos of a ‘cost-benefit’ analysis.

When faced with realities not of our own choosing, we are forced to learn a new ‘grammar of existence’ and evaluate our stance in the world.

The disruptive and unforeseen experience of COVID-19 will open for some what the Australian poet and Catholic convert James McCauley described as ‘a new heaven and a new earth/A rumour of resurrection’ (Credo).

As Mark McCrindle identifies, if our parishes, shrines, migrant communities and ecclesial movements bring forward their wisdom, insights, traditions, practices, spiritual classics and exemplars, at a time when many Australians are looking for spiritual answers, then we have a match on both sides of the equation.

A Sydney Catholic prays during Eucharistic adoration held for the feast of Corpus Christi in Lidcombe. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

However, a sticking point for many Catholics in the face of this opportunity is a discomfort with holding spiritual conversation, especially with people who do not share our Catholic faith or worldview.

We can tend to reserve such discussions for select forums, such as the confessional or small groups within RCIA, but lack wider opportunities where people can share their testimony, ask questions or even begin to speak of or explore a personal relationship with Jesus.

Nonetheless, to borrow from the thought of St Francis de Sales, we learn to speak by speaking, to run by running, to love by loving, and yes to speak of Jesus and our Catholic faith with others by speaking of Jesus and our Catholic faith with others.

This time of difficulty and privation gives us permission to speak into the isolation, suffering, uncertainty and bewilderment we see in our communities and among our loved ones and neighbours.

Even in the face of the heartrending situations of anxiety, unemployment, and mortality that COVID-19 has brought about, we can offer a Word of hope and a look of love in Christ.

After all, it is in Him that we engage life’s difficulties not as the end of the story but as the doorway to new prospects that faith makes possible – new relationships in community, a fresh compassion and care for the poor, a new urgency for our Christian witness and proclamation, a new reliance on prayer and deeper trust in the Lord.

As Christians who experience the ‘rumour of resurrection’ in our own lives and know the ‘grammar of existence’ through our liturgy, teaching, formation and Christian living, we can offer the Word of Jesus Christ with those awaiting an answer to their prayer.

The latest research reveals the inner lives of Australians in this time of pandemic and gives us reasons for hope and a commission to bring that Word into the lives and spiritual longing of our neighbour.

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