This is the second weekend of not gathering as a community, with some of us going on line for the live-streaming of Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral with Bishop Bill.

As I participated in this Mass from my lounge room, the word that has stayed with me was that of ‘weeping’. Jesus wept at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus. He was moved by the loss and grief, especially that of Mary and Martha. I imagine that many of you are feeling a deep sadness and grief at this present time. It seems that we in Australia have been in this dark space since at least last November, if not before. We were feeling for our country which has been in drought, and then came the bushfires, followed by storms and floods and now the pandemic. So much loss and suffering!

At work, people are being careful, and many have begun to work from home. Teams of people have been occupied with ensuring the ‘work’ of the church continues while others have been pondering how we continue to spiritually and pastorally outreach to those who are unable to connect to church, as well as to those who have been disconnected.

During the week, I came across this poem which spoke to me of the opportunity for us to look at this time as a time of ‘Sabbath’, a sacred time of being, of letting go, of stillness, of prayer and contemplation, of reaching out with our hearts.

Pandemic (Lynn Ungar)

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Centre down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

I trust that you are able to enter into this space of invitation and maybe on Saturday evening you turned off the lights and walked outside into the darkness and stillness for Earth Hour. As I sat in the lounge at the end of the working week, I wondered what everyone might be doing with no clubs, pubs, restaurants, family get-togethers and no sport.

And then another poem this time by Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM


Yes, there is fear.
Yes, there is isolation.
Yes, there is panic buying.
Yes, there is sickness.
Yes, there is even death.

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

So, we pray and we remember that
Yes, there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes, there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes, there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes, there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes, there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

I share these words with you because they express so much of what I am unable to. I do not have the gift of poetry and these two poems say so much at so many levels. I hope they bring you some comfort.

Our second reading for Sunday (Paul to the Romans 8:8-11) reminded us that we are all spiritual beings, which is life itself. During the week, at the Hunter Community Alliance zoom meeting, one of the participants shared what is happening for people in the disability sector, and as part of his reflection, he spoke of the existential threat to those who are vulnerable. He spoke about their living situations, of the risks they are facing and of being invisible. He used the term ‘herd immunity’ which shocked the group. This immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination, but also through the number of people who have been infected. Evidently, what has been spoken of in some quarters is the development of such immunity without vaccinations, by just letting the virus spread uncontrolled, with the natural consequence that the vulnerable die. In this case it is the aged, the sick and those with disabilities. This ideology is about the survival of the fittest.

Interestingly, the dialogue has shifted over the past week with community concerns for those who are now unemployed, and who have suddenly found themselves without work. There are many people who are self-isolating, and businesses are closing. It seems that for years, the dominant focus has been on the marketplace and the economy. The key concern is now for civil society, and how we can work together to get through this time of trial, and of disorientation.

I will finish here because there have been so many words spoken and written in this past week. This is now a time of reimagining and recreating, a time of contemplation, a Sabbath time of being one with God, and with all of creation.

Praying for you,

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.