A California woman receives the coronavirus vaccine at the Brightwater Senior Living community, January 22, 2021 (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters).

As vaccine distributions continue to rise and the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths gradually declines, we begin to wonder what integrating into a post-pandemic society will be like. Last Friday, Los Angeles eased restrictions on businesses, stepping down one level on its four-tier scale from “purple” (most restrictive) to “red.” But as a resident of L.A. I nonetheless felt a nervous vulnerability on hearing the news, since I’m not yet vaccinated. My decision to come out of quarantine will likely depend on getting one. In the meantime, I’ve noticed that in conversations about social gatherings, my family and friends now talk less about quarantining and more about whether they’ve been vaccinated. There’s less talk about testing sites and more about finding a vaccination site that might have leftover doses. We’re talking less about what we’re doing while stuck at home, and more about what we want and don’t want to do as restrictions continue to ease. But our most intimate conversations are about what we want our lives to be as we move forward. Solitude, anger, and loss have led many to discover who they are, who they want to be, and what they value most.

With every announcement of progress, our emotions range from excitement over the prospect of enjoying social settings again, to dread at the thought of returning to the pre-pandemic grind in which work seemed to consume us. While there’s an air of regret for not having enjoyed each other’s company when we had the chance, there’s also a feeling of resolve to make sure we don’t set ourselves up to regret things again. Social media posts have begun to reflect what seems like a premature nostalgia for what might be lost as social restrictions are lifted. A humorous viral TikTok says, “At this point in quarantine, I am 97.3 percent feral and will not be able to integrate back into society.” Other images proudly depict homes transformed into multipurpose spaces. With an end in sight, we’re questioning whether our pre-pandemic way of living was, indeed, the best way to live. Everyone seems to be thinking about the kind of life they’d like to lead post-COVID.

What do we do with the things we’ve learned and discovered about ourselves?

There are also shared experiences that have led to communal transformation, such as the use of facemasks. Masks have become such a staple in our lives that it can be confusing to see characters in TV shows not wearing them when they’re shopping or out in public. The use of masks alone has dramatically altered the practical ways in which we think about our human interdependence. They have also made us keenly aware of how difficult it is for many to see beyond their own needs and comfort. Just this week, among reports of the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, I saw an image of a face mask that bore the message: “This mask is as useless as my governor.” It was a message clearly intended for anti-maskers who continue to question the efficacy of mask-wearing.

So, what do we do with the things we’ve learned and discovered about ourselves?

On the fifth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of John moves us closer to the passion and resurrection. The presence of the Greeks who have come to worship at the Passover feast, desiring to see Jesus, serve as a sign to him that his mission is coming to an end and that the crucifixion is near. After being made aware of their presence Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12: 23–24). As we get closer to the end of Lent, we are also invited to discern the grain or grains of wheat that must die in our lives. We think of sin so often in the Lenten season, and especially when we hear or read Scripture verses about death. While that’s important, sin in this case is not the grain of wheat that is planted, but the weeds that are cleared from the soil so that the grain may grow. While Lent may be about clearing the soil of sin, it is also about discerning the good grain of wheat to be planted, offered for the common good. As the pandemic begins to enter a new phase of hope, the Spirit questions us. What good and beautiful things have you discovered? What weeds are there to pull? What is there to cultivate? We might joke about having gone feral, but there is a spiritual truth in this experience. It is time to discern the difference between behavior that keeps us at arm’s length from the world, safe from discomforts—and between authentic liberation for the kingdom of God.

Claudia Avila Cosnahan is the Mission & Partnerships Director for Commonweal and an instructor and consultant for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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