TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Connecting from afar

I am hoping that some of you, who were at home during the week because of the coronavirus, took time to read the daily readings in this Easter week.

The first readings for each day from the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, captured the going out of the apostles to their communities, working and being charged with Jesus’ mission, much to the chagrin of the Jewish elders. We were also invited to the unique resurrection accounts from each of the Gospel writers.

As I was reading and contemplating on these during the week and trying to stay focused while working from home, the following picture-graph formed part of an email sent to me from Kirsty Robertson, the CEO of Caritas Australia. She prefaced her sharing this by saying, “I have been using this picture-graph to try to process who I want to be at this time and how I can move from fear to growth.”

It not only reminded me of what we are presently experiencing with COVID – 19, but also what the disciples were feeling immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion. They fled in fear and I imagine were trying to understand what had happened in the light of the previous three years of journeying with Jesus and their growing understanding of him as the messiah, the one sent by God.

In today’s Gospel reading (John 20:19-31) we have the disciples in a closed room with Jesus appearing to them with the greeting: “Peace be with you.” Jesus then sends them out, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you, receive the Holy Spirit.” And then, we have the account of Jesus appearing again eight days later, when Thomas was with the disciples. Being able to see and touch Jesus, Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and My God!”

The disciples were in the Fear Zone. Their reactions, like ours, came from a confused and emotional space. I feel like I have been forced into the locked-room of coronavirus. I can rationalise why it needs to be this way, but it does not mean that I like it. From the fear zone, clearly the disciples moved into the Learning Zone. They were able to talk with each other, share stories and remember Jesus and the stories he had shared with them during his three years of active ministry. They began to comprehend what they needed to do in order to make sense of their ‘new world’. By the time of the writings of the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, our understanding of what happens next to Jesus’ disciples fits with the Growth Zone of the picture-graph I have shared with you.

I recognise we probably have a wish to get to the Growth Zone with some pace, but we need to take time to grapple with our world of COVID – 19. During the week I participated in some zoom meetings with people who are trying to ascertain what gaps exist in serving our community. I can sense our frustration because we are not really able to identify where the gaps are, because there are so many people who are not connected via any of the more modern communication channels. These people are indeed isolated physically and socially. I am pleased to be part of these emerging conversations around how we are going to care for our community, particularly the vulnerable – refugees, the homeless, asylum seekers, those exposed to domestic violence, the unemployed and newly unemployed etc. This is just the beginning of different global, national and local community experiences.

On this Second Sunday of Easter, Mercy Sunday, I am reminded of those caring and concerned conversations and of how Jesus invites us to be God’s mercy in the world in which we find ourselves. During the week, I received a lot of links to different messages that are being produced in relationship to the pandemic, many on YouTube. The Archbishop of Lima reflects on the presence of Christ in this following YouTube clip:

He sees Christ in the many acts of mercy, kindness and compassion from the ordinary people who are assisting during this global pandemic. He asks the question, “Who says Christ is not coming out this year?”

I take this time now to remind you of our own Diocesan Pastoral Plan coming from the 1992/93 Diocesan Synod. When I arrived in the diocese in 2005, I met up with Sr Patricia Egan who had been the Chancellor of our diocese and who has also worked tirelessly for the ongoing pastoral planning of our diocese. She informed me that Acts 2:42 – 47 was the basis of our diocesan pastoral planning, or what we call our Stewardship Framework, in the diocese. This was the first reading which was read on this Second Sunday of Easter:

The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone.

The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.

They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.

Our five foundations have their roots in this reading:

  • Identity and Community
  • Worship and Prayer
  • Formation and Education
  • Mission and Outreach
  • Leadership and Structure

These foundations are what we will be exploring further as we continue to unpack the synodal journey on which the diocese has been travelling for more than 25 years.

I realise that what I am struggling with at the moment is not being able to be at the forefront of the ‘action’, of just being with people who are in need. We are being prevented from doing this, and given I am in the ‘vulnerable’ age bracket, I am left to keep pastoral ministries ‘active’ from the safety-net of my home environment, and to be ready for when we can once again gather and connect. It is hard for me to imagine that I am helping by not being out and about, and yet this is the reality we are facing.

So, on a brighter note, while tuning into our live-streamed Mass from the Cathedral this Sunday, I had the benefit of sitting in our lounge room as Psalm 118 was sung with the response:

This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad.
This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad.

As this was sung, I looked out over the lake, and smiled at God’s great grandeur and my small part in that picture. I do hope you are able to enjoy these amazing autumn days with which we are presently being gifted.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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