Pondering over the uncertain interval between two regimes of ancient Rome, Antonio Gramsci wrote from a Fascist prison in 1929, “The old world is dying and the new world struggles are yet to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” Today, we are also in an uncertain interval, what Gramsci then called, interregnum, between an old familiar pre-COVID-19 world that is dying and an uncertain, but a new post-COVID-19 world, about to receive us.
Pope Francis described a similar interval in present-day Rome in a virtually unprecedented live streamed prayer service to see an end to COVID-19. He said that it was “filled with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.”
But the uncertain and stormy interval is also a moment of discernment, he said, a time to choose between “what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.” It is like the disciples “begging God to step in to calm the waters.”
Oncethestormisoverandthemonster is dead, we will reach the shore from the lockdown only to see a new world order. What is that new world? How will we choose to reorder our life and mission?
The post-COVID world
That world will be different. It will be a de-globalised world, redrawn borders between countries that would push the sources and resources of economy with a relocation of industries to protect supply and production lines. It will emphasize nationalinterests
will face creative destruction, demanding them to adapt and adjust to the new world that has gone online. Healthcare will become the main focus attracting major funding and budget allocation of nations. Everyone will be health-minded. Protection from infection will become an utmost priority. Free and universal healthcare and a universal basic income to shield against job losses may not be a dream but a dream come true. The crisis could give a strong impetus to the redefinition of corporate purpose and responsibilities beyond simple profit maximization.
Social distancing will upend our way of life, making every aspect of human life virtual. We will relate to each other at an effective distance, love and intimacy will be redefined. Physical space and use of infrastructure will be rendered useless. There will be expansion of voice and machine vision interfaces that recognize faces and gestures in most industries and organisations, limiting physical contact. The changed world will change the Jesuit world aswell.
Life and Mission in the post-COVID world
As COVID-19 is forcing humankind to innovate and change the way we work and live, the Jesuits’ life and mission will also have to be different if we want to be relevant. The crisis said
Fr. General in the recent webinar, “will have a huge impact on how we relate to each other; on how we work; on how the world economy is run; on how we pray together. But we want to live this time as an opportunity.” Therefore, the time of lockdown is an opportunity to stop to re-collect and reprioritise in life and mission. How are we prepared to face the challenges to life and mission in the post-COVID era? Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) inspire us to reorder our way of life and mission. We have to be innovative in showing all those who are affected by the virus a path to God through discernment and the Spiritual Exercises. To walk with the poor and the marginalised means journeying with migrants and labourers who have had to bear the brunt of the lockdown. It is an equally huge challenge to accompany young people in ‘the creation of a hope-filled future’ in the post-COVID world. The crisis has given us, Fr. General said, an opportunity “to work passionately and urgently with others to bring about a change, to act differently, to love and cherish our planet with the tenderness of the Creator.” To do this, we need conversion – personal, communal and institutional – and we have to change our thought process for collaboration with others who respond to the challenges of the post-COVID world. More than ever the radical interior modification in our selves is a key to face the challenges of the crisis we are in.
Conversion and Collaboration
The UAPs are a call to profound conversion and “an invitation to rethink how we live, how we work and how we relate to the people we serve.” To “reform institutions, it is necessary to reform the hearts of those who govern it,” Fr General wrote in La CiviltàCattolica, on March 5, 2020. This conversion helps us overcome every form of self-centredness and corporatism we had in the pre-COVID world. The conversion is profound that is moral, epistemological, political, social and economic to change our systems, values and behaviors. change our systems, values and behaviors. This conversion leads to become authentic collaborators in the Lord’s mission, which we share with so many people inside and outside the Church. We collaborate with God first. God is working already in the world (Jn. 5:17) and we join His work of reconciliation. Our mission in the post-COVID world is reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), because we are companions in the mission of reconciliation. The three aspects of reconciliation – reconciliation with God, with neighbour and one another, and with creation – draw our attention to the way we collaborate with others. The inner change – conversion – prepares us in our journey with others – collaboration. How do we then journey with others in the post COVID-19 world? First, we need to change our thought processes that will guide our life and mission.
Build technical competencies
For people confined to their homes, the internet is their lifeline today.Ithelpstostayintouch,streamentertainment,orderfood and other household essentials. Governments and charities are moving traditional services to digital channels and many businesses are migrating to the internet to stay active. Online life, online education, work from home, e-commerce and e-entertainment will be the norm rather than the exception in the post Covid-19world.
How we choose to approach technology and use it will make the difference in the outcomes of our mission, and bring change in our way of life. As the world moves to online, or work-from-home, it is a non-negotiable for Jesuits to be fluent in and conversant with technology. Our institutions require a strong digital infrastructure for which major budget allocation has to be given. We need to improve connectivity in all our institutions. In our formation programmes, training of our men in computer systems and digital skills is not just a complementary subject but has to be a non-negotiable fundamental course if we want to be effective and efficient in whatever mission we are engaged in.
Enter health care
Moving away from the conventional Jesuit ministries we will have to enter healthcare ministry. It is not entirely new for Jesuits. St. Ignatius insisted that Jesuits worked among the poor and in hospitals. Disarmed and vulnerable at Montserrat and wanting to make reparation for his sins, Ignatius regularly practised visiting and nursing patients in the local hospital, especially those with loathsome diseases. More interestingly, in Peru in 1633, the remedy for malaria and to cure the French Dauphin was called ‘Jesuit’s Bark.’ The English weekly Mercurius Politicus in 1658 wrote that “the excellent powder known by the name of ‘Jesuit’s powder’ may be obtained from several London chemists.” This ‘Jesuit’s powder’ was considered particularly efficacious as it was genuine and unadulterated.
With the entire country under a social and economic shutdown it is a very trying time for those who survive on daily labour. Landless agricultural labourers, petty traders, tailors, barbers, construction workers, and rickshaw/auto/Ola/Uber drivers suffer the most. For us Jesuits, walking with the poor and the marginalised in the post-COVID world means that we providethemwithhealthcareandhelpthembuildnotonly
their physical immune system but also make sure their jobs are immune to crises like COVID-19. To do this effectively, social action apostolate must evolve a new vision and build innovativestrategies.
Move to online education
Universities, teachers, and students embrace and adapt to online learning. Unprecedentedly, Oxford’s Trinity term seems to be conducted partially or entirely online. This epochal shift would have domino effects across the world of education. The entire education system will be transformed in the post-COVID world. In 188 countries, home-schooling will start to gather momentum. Parents will have substantive participation in developing children’s skills and uncovering their talents. Online platforms – Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, etc. – will probably replace the conventional class rooms as much as online buying. Learning remotely, experts say, will improve the quality of education in the emerging countries. Jesuit schools and colleges in South Asia must learn from this and invest in digital platforms and train our men to be competent in handling the IT systems. Many schools, such as INSEAD, see the online learning not only as a locus of cognitive learning but also socio-emotional learning that normally happens in physical classrooms.
Embrace digital spirituality
With a large segment of the population confined to their homes having to consume bandwidth, the internet free-for-all we have enjoyed to date is all but done. Content services, such as from Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, Disney+, YouTube, and other providers connect with viewers to replace movie theatres. There is a steep rise in hybrid events where parts of the event take place in person, and others are delivered digitally. Harvard Divinity School have crowd sourced to offer online spiritual practices to keep people spiritually supple and connected.
In a swift move, South Asian Jesuits have entered this field with the launch of online retreat during the Holy Week, titled Clinging on to Life-line of God. Recently, Sr. Sandra, an Italian nun, broke the sombre atmosphere of Italy by offering children a series o flight-hearted puppet shows that are live streamedon her Convent’s Facebook page.We need to create more e-content on discernment and the Spiritual Exercises and develop online platforms to show a way to God. Millennials are digital natives and smart phones are their living rooms. Counter to the destructive content they consume daily we must consider their online platforms as altars from where we provide constructive content to connect with God. More than ever, like the disciples, every one of us in the lockdown, especially the poor, cry out, ‘Master, we are drowning’. As Pope Francis said, we must make good use of cyberspace to make the people “to know that there is the Lord to hold onto.”
The author is at present the Director of Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Chennai, and Province Director of Development (PDD) Jesuit Madurai Province.