THE Church, especially the clergy, should not just focus on how to re-open churches in the new normal. Churches are not business establishments and the sacraments are not perishable commodities whose relevance are dependent on the operations of parishes. True that there is hunger on the part of some if not many people for their treasured sacraments. However, this is a hunger which the Church cannot fill merely by reopening its buildings.

I have heard a number of online homilies and spiritual sharing since the lockdown started in March. I do not mean to be disrespectful nor ungrateful in not giving credit to the effort of some ministers. But in all honesty, many of what I have heard lack depth and meaning. They are shots that missed the target. They have not reached far beyond conventional expositions of the Gospel. Some preachers have tried to send messages of hope only to appear unconvincing as they are wanting in connection to the “real” difficulties experienced by people in their day to day lives.

So this so-called spiritual hunger is not caused by the lockdowns due to Covid-19; it pre-exists and is thus merely magnified by the pandemic. If this is a serious matter which Church leaders should address, the approach cannot be limited to mere logistical preparations. The clergy have to reflect more deeply why spiritual hungers exist and what their sources are.

We can re-open the gates and doors of our churches and still, unfortunately, celebrate the same kind of masses that lack zeal, fervor and evangelical substance. Ministers of the word have to seriously reflect what the word truly means to and for us. The “Word” (made flesh) after all is not just a dead text but a living person whose life was given for the salvation of all. In the same way, we have to contemplate the real meaning of ‘communion’ as our state of life as believers more than just being a consecrated ‘bread’ for distribution.

The pandemic can be seen as an opportunity for the Church to teach its flock about the basics of faith. It is actually a good time to remind the faithful that the ‘home’ is the smallest unit of the Church.

Spiritual life must begin at home, and that though the sacraments can and should be officially celebrated by the Church’s ministers, this does not mean that all growth and movement in spiritual life cannot thrive without the clergy. It is a good opportunity for the Church to tell its people that the stability of their faith cannot totally depend on online masses. And that while online masses are and can always be available, being spiritual goes beyond the mere performance of Sunday obligations to listen to televised or livestreamed prayers merely for the sake of not violating the third commandment. All these are helpful agents but cannot be the end-all and be-all of human salvation.

Confronted with so many difficulties in life, the faithful should, in this time of pandemic, learn how to nurture their faith and take it as an individual responsibility. This means also asking questions about who we are in relation to the world and why there is meaning living our lives despite the darkness of our condition. People must learn how to courageously ask questions about God and eventually embrace the truth that even our concept of God is not static.

I used the title 'churches need not open' not because I am in favor of closing our churches. It is a gift and a grace to see our sacred spaces being allowed to re-open. Of course, this goes with the condition that they strictly follow all health and safety protocols. But I hope that the members of the hierarchy are not rushing with the opening mainly for reasons other than spiritual life. This is not just about the economic survival of the Church but of the meaning and the place of the “spiritual” in the life of believers. If the intentions behind opening our churches have nothing if not little to do with making people grow in their faith then we better lock them again. Precisely why we can open them but we need not to. The challenge is now on the clergy on how they can reach out to their people even if churches are closed. After all when we speak of genuine ministry, it cannot just revolve around the office hours of the rectory.

I hope the Church will also learn how to “re-teach” its frozen notions on God’s grace and the sacraments. The sacraments as well as the sacramentals of the Church should be given a fresh look and a renewed understanding as something beyond the technical, rubric-based, and canonically conceptualized celebrations. We must see with new eyes the superabundance of God’s grace connected to the greater call of Christians to be persons for others more importantly linked to the much deeper truth that the very essence of the sacraments is God who continually communicates itself to creation.

At the end of the day it would really mean less if all churches are opened or not. The most fundamental question and concern should be: whether our being continues to be open to a transcendent reality and that profound truth that though the societies have been going through moments of despair there is something to hope – a salvation that does not really come from this world.