It seems very apt somehow that some of the key milestones in the easing of the Covid-19 restrictions should fall around Easter. Monday of Holy Week saw the resumption of outdoor sport and the beginning of the end of the strict ban on close-quarters household mixing.
The first Monday after the end of the Easter Octave – that is, the eight days from Easter Sunday onwards – will see a widespread re-opening of tourist attractions and “outdoor hospitality”, i.e. beer gardens of pubs!
The return to something like normal life, and to normal interaction with others, reflects in a small way the great promise of hope and eternal life embodied in the Resurrection.
Last year it was all very different.
Easter Sunday 2020 fell smack in the middle of the first lockdown, and almost coincided with the peak of deaths in the first wave of coronavirus. The joy of that day, the most important feast in all the Christian year, was for many people mingled with sorrow and sadness.
That public Masses were suspended, as they had been since the third week of Lent and would be until well into the summer, added to the gloom.
Christians look beyond this vale of tears to discover the ultimate source of meaning and hope, but we remain human. We are inevitably bound up in the tragedies and disappointments of this world. Our Lord bears His wounds even in His resurrected body. Our Lady is Mother of Sorrows.
What then, should the Church say to a world emerging from the pandemic?
The core of our message is the same as it has always been: the old, old story of redemption and salvation. That’s the same story we’ve been telling for a good while, now. For some time, we’ve struggled with how to tell it to the world we inhabit. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of life, even — perhaps especially — in our well-regulated and technologically advanced world, while many of our fellows are awake to the truth recorded in the book of Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
The trick, so to speak, will not be in convincing our fellows of technocracy’s futility. It will be in resisting the urge to over-sell the promise of community.
Behind this yearning for togetherness, for sharing our lives with others, for communal experiences, is a fact of nature: that humans are made for communion and for unity, with their fellows and finally with God. Human community — be it ever so real and substantial in our eyes — is not the end. Without it, we can hardly make a beginning. Here is an opportunity.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,” C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
The most wonderful and wholesome experience in this world, the moments of the deepest and most enduring significance and happiness, are in some way incomplete. They always point us to something else, something higher, something eternal: communion with God.
New Evangelizers are wont to remark the great numbers of people who have what you might call transcendent experiences. They note how these fellows frequently describe in vague terms their sense — or their sense of a sense — of the source of beauty and truth, even if they do not describe it in that way. Christianity has a vocabulary, a lexicon for that. We also have a grammar of longing, and now we have a chance to awaken our neighbours to their want of it.
That can be an excellent start for evangelisation.
Niall Gooch is a regular Chapter House columnist. He also contributes to UnHerd.