Protesters at Toronto City Hall call attention to the condition of Toronto's homeless population especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Michael Swan

Glen Argan: The last thing we want is return to ‘normal’

By 
  • April 23, 2020

The question on many minds is, “When will life return to normal?” That implies another question: What is normal?

For many, the answer would be something like, normal is when I return to my daily activities such as visiting family and friends, earning a living wage and the kids returning to school. For others, normal includes increased production, crowded city streets, high levels of consumption and expanding corporate profits.

Such normalcy should never return. To return to the normal is to seek to abolish the memory of the hundreds of thousands who have died. When “normal” only includes my life and an economy of production and consumption, we have come to worship an idol.

Governments are now pouring trillions of dollars into restoring a “normal” which ignores those who have died and those who have worked at great danger to save the lives of others. Such a normal will mean an even greater exclusion of the marginalized.

Life after the pandemic may be worse. In their efforts to preserve the era of never-ending economic growth, political and economic leaders may create a world of authoritarian rule, constant surveillance and permanent unemployment inflicted upon millions.

Perhaps it won’t be so bad. The pain and suffering of our current situation will eventually recede, although the riotous excess of recent decades is likely gone forever.

The opposite of this idolatry of the normal is faith and trust in God’s providence. Idolatry means worshiping the work of our own hands. In his encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis wrote that when we worship an idol, we refuse to let our security be overturned; we refuse to be challenged in ways that would lead us to newness of life. We create idols because they reassure us that our normal state is just fine.

Is there no way out? Yes, there is. Where faith abides so does hope.

In his Good Friday homily, Fr. Raniero Cantamalessa, preacher to the papal household, pointed to two good effects of the pandemic.

First, it has challenged “the delusion of omnipotence.” We do not save ourselves. “It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.”

Second, the crisis has awakened global solidarity. “When, in the memory of humanity, have the people of all nations ever felt themselves so united, so equal, so less in conflict than at this moment of pain?”

Hope today has a third aspect. In the online publication Forge (forge.medium.com), Julio Vincent Gambuto revelled in the cleaner air, declining emissions and slower pace of life that are fruits of the pandemic. “At no other time, ever in our lives, have we gotten the opportunity to see what would happen if the world simply stopped. Here it is. We’re in it.”

Humanity has an unprecedented window to create a better, more human society. We do not need “normal.” Likewise, Cantamalessa urged, “We should not revert to that prior time when this moment has passed. As the Holy Father has exhorted us, we should not waste this opportunity.”

Our opportunity is to drive a stake through the heart of the normal. It is to realize that faith, not normalcy, should be our byword. Out of faith grows hope and love. Faith overturns self-satisfied idolatry. It is God’s gift which challenges us to become our best possible selves, to be open to being stretched by the call to love God and others.

Normal is not good enough. Love calls us to fashion a society where we are stewards, not owners, of creation — a society of greater equity, universal health care, a clean environment, participatory democracy and an end to treating people as objects of production and consumption.

Some claim that only the pursuit of monetary gain can drive an economy. People may become idealistic for a short period, but soon it’s everyone for themselves. However, we are better than that.

If we choose, we can change ourselves and our world. We can abolish idolatry of the normal. We can open ourselves to faith, hope and love, virtues that will enable everyone to receive a fair share of the fruits of creation. Now is the time to live out our destiny to love.

(Argan is program co-ordinator at Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta.)

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