“A bifurcated ministry, between virtual and physical”
At this time of our unfolding human history we are experiencing a bifurcated reality. We live within the constraints of a worldwide pandemic. Our lives are influenced to varying degrees by social distancing, sanitizing and isolation. We are situated between a virtual and a physical realm. There is an unseen void in society and it creates a sense of the biblical as we try to navigate life through blind faith and hope.
A cloud of unknowing threatens humanity. The current corona virus calls to mind the phrase “you can’t fence the wind”. We are living with a sense of our own powerlessness as we await vaccination as a way out.
Mission in ministry has begun to be delivered through a virtual portal. Online communication is now the new front door of the church. This virtual platform can reach out in a mechanical way. However, it should never become a long term substitute for living faith. There is an inherent danger that the virtual world can promote subjective individualism through its portal of remoteness. An actual physical community is based on living faith. This faith must be rooted in the life of the community and its core values.
A physical faith community is enhanced by the senses. Our senses are what make us human. They are also what lead us to the spiritual.
Certainly, we can use virtual means of communication as a tool to serve the faith community. But we must not deceive ourselves by imagining that a virtual community exists. This would be similar to reducing a living faith community to virtual friends and gratuitous likes as garnered from the internet. The virtual is merely a tool to serve the actual physical community of faith. The virtual can be a useful way of communicating information. It is not community.
The virtual and the actual are mutually exclusive. Information disseminated on the virtual platform is pre-digested and pre-interpreted. It constructs a barrier to the possibility of actual living faith. It promotes individualism within the context of remoteness. This is where an individual with no actual involvement in a living community, dips into a community in an anonymous way. This remoteness further inculcates detachment. Limited interaction ensures the person participating through the virtual is a passive isolated entity.
The faith mission must not be reduced to a virtual experience. We must go out and preach the good news by sharing our communal values. We can’t pretend to engage in mission in ministry by sitting in front of a computer screen in some virtual world. Mission in ministry must be an actual experience in which we engage the senses. You can’t smell virtual sheep.
Pope Francis tells us in his address for World Mission Day, 30th January 2021, that to be on mission in ministry is to be willing to think as Christ does; to truly believe that those around us are our brothers and sisters. The call to mission in ministry is not a thing of the past. Christ needs messengers and agents of compassion at present. Christ wants human messengers, not virtual messengers.
Pope Francis encourages us not to hide behind social distancing or virtual reality which disguise or attempts to justify indifference and apathy. He urges us not to abandon mission in ministry through relying on an imaginary virtual ministry. There is urgent need for a mission of compassion through safe encounter, care and promotion. We can only bring to others what we own in our own hearts.
We must proclaim what we have experienced within our faith filled communities. Through sharing what we own in our hearts we share the message of living faith. Faith is actual and not virtual. Faith is a gift. As humans we are not virtual entities situated in online spaces in the nothing of nothingness of some cyber virtual realm.
A virtual blessing while consoling in these difficult times is no substitute for an actual blessing. Virtual mass is not a substitute for the actual participation at the Eucharist. Just as a virtual hug can never satisfy in the same way as an actual hug. We have to be very careful in our use of online platforms and what they mean for us. They are merely forms of information dissemination, nothing more and nothing less.
As an actual living believing faith community, let us unite with Jesus by praying for one another, bearing in mind that despite all the challenges and obstacles, we have the ability to maintain community; community that is rooted in our humanity.
Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink of their own water. The sun doesn’t shine only for itself. A flower’s fragrance is not for itself. Living for each other is the hallmark of the living believing community. Can we follow the example of Jesus by living a life of simplicity where we can speak about what we have seen and what we have heard? Let us remember that no one can be saved by himself or herself. Can we widen our circle of mission in ministry despite the limitations of the pandemic?
Denis C Hartnett mhm