COVID stole the ‘Holy’ from us

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

While everyone I know can recall everyone and everything they lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, no one talks about how they lost “Holy” in their lives. People talk about a family member or friend who died during the COVID surges or the rest of us talk about income, jobs, possessions, businesses we lost. As I tried to think of what we may have taken for granted, I realized that during COVID lockdowns, many of us who were practicing believers of one faith or religion simply saw the ban on services and worship as lost opportunity instead of the “Holy” in our lives.

Many of us, me included, actually appreciated the convenience and safety of “attending” service online. That unfortunately may have led to the undoing of many peoples’ adherence to their faith and their spiritual way of life. Church or worship online is indeed convenient, in fact too convenient, that we no longer dressed for the occasion to worship GOD. Yes, we make time to attend the mass or service, but it no longer involved setting a time dedicated to God. We inserted some chores or multi-tasked while doing so.

After a month you suddenly realize that you’ve skipped portions of the service without intentionally meaning to. You were simply being efficient with your time and waited until the preaching of the word before we actually tune in, because it just seems “weird” to sing and worship in your bedroom or living room. Unfortunately, we miss the point, as our senior pastor once said: “It wouldn’t bother me if you left the service just before I spoke on the week’s topic, but please whatever you do, don’t miss the praise and worship part at the beginning because all that is for GOD.”

Aside from the multi-tasking, fitting Sunday worship into our weekend, digital church has ended up becoming so casual that it loses its solemnity and we lose our reverence and respect for GOD. We do worship with more informality than we do our work from home. In WFH mode you at least fix the upper part of your body or that which will come out on Zoom meets. We’ve become so obsessed with looking professional that many people have mastered buttons and features such as soft backgrounds, green screens and fitting the background with the type of business meeting we’re conducting.

Unfortunately, when it comes to our online worship, it’s “come as you are – wherever you are.” We have reverted to doing it more out of compliance or a superficial desire to worship GOD but with a minimum of effort, expectation and ATTENTION. Just because you are not on Zoom does not mean GOD doesn’t see us. Yes! I am first among the guilty and that’s why I’m writing my realizations.

But all that is not even half of what causes me to be concerned. Aside from how many of us have informalized worship and relationship with GOD due to digitalization, our collective absences from church, being prevented to come together in small groups, in worship, in fellowship, in conferences, retreats and plain old after church binge eating, has robbed us of being joined in thought, faith, accountability and teaching and mentoring on our shared faith or beliefs. You can listen to all the online services you want, you can read the Bible front to back several times in a year, but like the high ranking Ethiopian official who read the gospel but did not understand (Acts 8), we all need a “Philip” to explain it and teach us.

Like the apostles and the believers, we need to gather together regularly not just to worship but also to break bread, to celebrate the good times and to weep and comfort each other in person and not just online. Many of us senior citizens have especially lost out in these things because we have been labeled as “High Risk.” But few seem to realize how, at such a late stage in life, we desperately seek spiritual nourishment as much as medical protection.

Just as important is how accountability groups faded away or were diminished during COVID lockdowns. After almost two years of spiritual deprivation in the body, a number of people continue to carry their spiritual labels as believers almost the same way they carry their vaccination cards. But similarly, their labels and deep beliefs seem to have expired or lost their efficacy. Their intensity has diminished, we have been deeply affected by deaths and threats of COVID that most of us now spend more time on physical fitness and the financial and minimally on the spiritual, such as actively ministering to others. Sadly, we only need to watch, read, listen to what we say and post regarding Philippine politics to realize how far and how low we have strayed. God in his mercy has nudged me and reminded me that I too lost some of my “Holy.”

In case you want to test yourself, try doing some tests: list down what you do and for whom you do things in a seven-day/24-hour grid. Check your spending pattern in the last two years and see where your treasure has gone to, to know where your heart is. Last but not the least, in this time of political disagreements let us state that old line: “I may be a fool for Christ; but whose fool are you?” St. Paul said it best in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so I could remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

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