‘Suicidal’ to keep same pastoral models after pandemic – Bishop Mario Grech

The Coronavirus pandemic, with all its perils and discomforts, was described by Bishop Mario Grech as a potential opportunity and a moment of renewal. He warned that “it will be suicide if, after the pandemic, we return to the same pastoral models that we have practised until now “. In an interview on the authoritative journal La Civiltá Cattolica, Bishop Grech reflected on the sacraments, evangelization, the meaning of human fraternity, and therefore of synodality, which he sees as closely connected. He spoke of the “small domestic Church,” particularly in times of lockdown.

Magic vs Faith

The pandemic, reflected Bishop Grech, has brought to light a certain religious ignorance, spiritual poverty. He called in question the way people worship observing that with the interruption of the celebration of the sacraments, some seem to have forgotten that there are other ways to see the face of Christ. “The disciple’s fidelity to Jesus cannot be compromised by the temporary lack of the liturgy and the sacraments,” said Bishop Grech. During the pandemic, certain clericalism emerged, even via social media, said Bishop Grech, “where one witnessed a degree of exhibitionism and pietism that has more to do with magic than an expression of mature faith”.

Transition from priest to laity centred participation

Quoting the Dominican theologian Yves Congar, Bishop Grech said that like the ancient Jews and Early Christians, the laws and the prophets need to be re-interpreted to meet the challenges of today. Observing that the laity “are often conditioned by a pattern of strong clericalism”, Bishop Grech echoed Congar that “the updating desired by the [Vatican] Council must go as far as the invention of a way of being, of speaking and of committing oneself that responds to the need for total evangelical service to the world”.

The lockdown, said Bishop Grech, forced and forces us to open our eyes to the reality in our churches. “What good is the profession of faith if this same faith does not become the leaven that transforms the dough of life?” asked Bishop Grech. He insisted that the pandemic has led to the discovery of a new ecclesiology, “perhaps even a new theology, and a new ministry”.  He warned that “it will be suicide if, after the pandemic, we return to the same pastoral models that we have practised until now. We spend enormous energy trying to convert secular society, but it is more important to convert ourselves to achieve the pastoral conversion of which Pope Francis often speaks”.

Bishop Grech observed that while there were those who complained of not being able to receive the sacrament, not as many worried about how to reconcile with God and neighbour, how to listen to and celebrate the Word of God and how to live out a life of service. The crisis, he stressed has shown that many are still “Gospel illiterate.”

Spiritual poverty

Reflecting on the blight of spiritual poverty, Bishop Mario Grech said that it is of concern that someone feels lost outside of the Eucharistic or worship context, for it shows an ignorance of other ways of engaging as a Catholic. This not only indicates that there is certain spiritual illiteracy, said the pastor, but is proof of the inadequacy of current pastoral practice which seems to lead to the sacraments and not to lead through the sacraments to the Christian life.

Concerning service, Bishop Grech was on the same wavelength as Pope Francis’ metaphor of the Church as a battlefield hospital. He offered a thought: “Didn’t those doctors and nurses who risked their lives to stay close to the sick transform the hospital wards into other “cathedrals”? Service to others in their daily work, plagued by the demands of the health emergency was for Christians an effective way of expressing their faith, of reflecting a Church present in today’s world, and no longer a “sacristy Church,” withdrawn from the streets, or content to project the sacristy into the street”.

Service as evangelisation

Bishop Mario Grech’s interpretation of Diakonia, help to those in need, elevated the soup kitchen to the level of the parish church. “The poor are theologically the face of Christ. Without the poor, one loses contact with reality. So, just as a place for prayer in the parish is necessary, the presence of the soup kitchen in the broad sense of the word is important,” said Bishop Grech. 

Just as the Church is missionary by nature, said the former Bishop of Gozo, so from this missionary nature flows charity for the neighbour, compassion, which is capable of understanding, assisting and promoting others. “The best way to experience Christian love is the ministry of service,” observed Bishop Grech. Paraphrasing Dostoyevsky, Bishop Grech concluded that service makes manifest the truth proper to Christ.