Priest: Spiritual and psychological health demands that we reopen churches
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April 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The difficulties and restrictions we’ve faced in recent weeks have a positive side. Our great national lockdown has clearly demonstrated the tremendous blessings of online technology.
We’ve been able to keep in touch with loved ones. Many folks have continued working, and businesses carried on operations. Churches have kept congregations fed on the Word of God through live-streaming of religious services, Bible studies, and catechetical sessions. Schools have kept up instructional programs.
In many ways, the Internet has far surpassed the benefits that Web pioneers had promised the “virtual” world would bring us. We should be truly grateful for how technology is helping us to get through this trying time.
But as we begin to glimpse an easing of the health crisis — which is surely coming, even if it’s still a way off — we should consider the limits of technology and begin to prepare for re-entry into the real world of human interaction.
For all of its advantages, living through our iPads and smartphones and laptops isn’t how life is supposed to be. This “social distancing,” necessary as it may have been to suppress the spread of disease, has locked us into an almost “make-believe” environment. Each of us has been living his own “Truman Show,” isolated in ways that contradict our very nature and tend to undermine human dignity.
We’re social creatures, made to interact — personally, economically, politically — to face each other in the flesh, look each other in the eye, read each other’s facial expressions, respond to the nuances of each other’s speech and body language. This is the kind of communication that happens in the real world.
We’ve been deprived of it for several weeks. And in the long run, such isolation can do tremendous harm. It can begin to break down the social enterprise, sowing fear where there should be a sense of human community.
It’s essential that churches be reopened. The experience of shared worship must be restored as soon as possible, along with other community activities. Certainly, this must be done with respect for sound health procedures that ensure safe environments where the risk of infection is minimized (social distancing and all that). But even if limits are imposed on the number of people who can attend a service, even if rules are set for how far worshippers must sit from one another, it’s vital that we get the churches functioning again.
This is a concern that hasn’t been widely discussed. There’s a vigorous (and loud) debate between those who insist on locking down society to fight the pandemic and those who insist on restarting business to avoid economic catastrophe. But not enough attention has been paid to the fact that social interaction is itself a genuine health concern. We need to be physically present to each other. Our psychological, spiritual, and in some ways physical health, depends on it.
Living so extensively in the virtual world, as we have these past weeks, has also revealed how dependent we are on the handful of companies that run the Internet and control our access to information. Much ink has been spilled and air time spent on the topic of censorship and political influence online.
Now Facebook has announced that public notices of protests against state movement restrictions will be blocked from posting in its news feed. Those protests go to the heart of the debate over quarantine. The idea that private media operators can arbitrarily forbid them is the very essence of an unconstitutional impingement on freedom of speech. It may very well present a health danger in itself.
The lockdown has been a great learning experience. We’ve discovered much about ourselves, and about this technology-focused life we’re all living today.
Perhaps one lesson that can be drawn from it is that, as Pope St. John Paul advised us, we must not be afraid. While being prudent and cautious, we mustn’t fear life; we can’t wall ourselves off from the real world indefinitely; and we can’t accept the loss of our rights and freedom.
Eventually, we must be willing to live the way God created us to live: as human beings.
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals.