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Old normal, new normal, or new-and-improved normal?


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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 05/27/20

How Christians can prepare for a better future.

How many times recently have you heard or said the following:

I can’t wait to get back to normal!

Okay. I get that. In the past few months I’ve become nostalgic for simpler times, for the “good old days”—you know, days without masks, gloves, timed hand-washing, social distancing, or treating as divine revelation any pronouncement from elected officials, or from unelected officials.

I think back to all those things we took for granted in the good old days: handshakes, graduations, public worship of God. Think back—you remember those days too, right?

But … then I read this:

“The Old Normal Wasn’t That Great”

I’m interested in what we’re calling the new normal. Hey folks remember, the old normal wasn’t that great. Maybe this can act as a reset button culturally.

(You can read the rest of Matt Archbold’s clever essay HERE; you can listen to my interview with him about “normalcy” HERE.)

Matt’s got a point, doesn’t he? There were some aspects of the old normal that weren’t so great: political infighting, economic shenanigans, most of social media, and the spiritual lukewarmness that Christ warns against in Revelation 3:16. From that angle, the old normal doesn’t look so shiny, does it?

All right then, how about the new normal? You know—the one that politicians and various experts tell us will arrive any day now, and we’re just going to have to get used to it? Depending upon who you believe, that new normal will include masks, gloves and social distancing forever; restaurants disfigured; public schools arranged according to your favorite dystopian nightmares; public worship permitted, but only in unrecognizable forms. Not much to look forward to in that new normal, is there?

How about this? Let’s pray for, plan for, work for, and insist upon a better new normal. Better than the old normal, and better than the doomsayers and fear-mongers are promising.

On this day, the feast of the Venerable Bede, who was no stranger to hard times, let’s recall these words of his that remind me that we are created by, sustained by, and created for love:

The ultimate Mystery of being, the ultimate Truth, is Love. This is the essential structure of reality. When Dante spoke of the ‘love which moves the sun and the other stars,’ he was not using a metaphor, but was describing the nature of reality. There is in Being an infinite desire to give itself in love and this gift of Self in love is for ever answered by a return of love… and so the rhythm of the universe is created.

Let’s state some obvious truths that need to be restated repeatedly:

  1. Christ reigns, and the reign of Christ may be resisted but cannot be overthrown;
  2. Until the Second Coming of Christ, death is an inevitable reality—it’s just not the ultimate reality, and never was;
  3. God is worthy of worship and must be worshiped as he prescribes;
  4. We cannot live well without the sacraments;
  5. Humans are resilient; we’ll get through this.

A “Better New Normal” will never lose sight of these five truths. What else might be added to the Better New Normal?

I’d like to see us add gratitude, contrition, penance, reparation, conversion, and a renewed appreciation for family, friends, and parish.

Let’s throw in a healthy skepticism regarding “official” pronouncements, computer models, and those who seek wealth and power by scaring us. For anything new to become truly normal, we will need lots of healthy skepticism.

In the coming week, count your blessings, survey your needs and aspirations, and talk with God. Remember to listen after you’ve had your say. Then talk and pray with family and friends. Let’s plan to build the Better New Normal together, rather than just receive a new normal imposed upon us.

When I write next, I will speak of the dangers of self-pity. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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