Here I begin Holy Week, like one we have never experienced before.

Most of us would have ‘attended’ a Mass via the web and, given that this message reaches out beyond our diocesan borders, those Masses may have had their origins from any part of our globe. While our local online streamed Mass from the Sacred Heart Cathedral at Hamilton, NSW may have had some initial sound troubles, it provided me and others with a way of remembering Palm Sunday and praying the Mass with Bishop Bill, having listened to the Word and having him break it open, while trying to be part of Eucharist without being present. I think it helps to keep us connected and to keep the Sabbath holy in our living rooms, with those with whom we live, or for some, on their own. However, I did come across these words during the week, writing them down without noting the writer for I think they are a good reflection of what is missing by not gathering as a community of believers:

But this notion, grabbed out of the cupboard in a hurry, fails to take account of the incarnational – that is, the actual touching, tasting, feeling – nature of Christianity and does not do justice to what we believe about the importance of the Eucharist.

Almost everyone from the diocesan offices is now working from home. The staff from Pastoral Ministries began to work from home last Wednesday, and we have been connecting with each other by email, phone, text messages, Zoom meetings, Teams meetings and messages, and some from the teams would be using some social media platforms. For me, emails seem to have replaced the daily presence of people at my door. I am no less busy, but the work has a very different feel to it.

I am not a fan of working from home, because it does not seem to be as effective or efficient, but this is what we now must do so as to honour the ‘stay at home’ requirement in order to prevent the spread of COVID – 19. Our Shared Services teams have worked hard in order to prepare our people to be able to work from home and to have students from our schools study online and to have teachers deliver those lessons. This has been a mammoth undertaking, all the while keeping all in our parishes, including 20,000 school students, those who are cared for in St Nicholas Early Education and OOSH, those who are supported by CatholicCare, DARA (Development and Relief Agency), those served by Pastoral Ministries and the Bishop’s Office, and all who work in Shared Services safe, well and engaged.

Once again, many words of wisdom have passed my eyes over the past week and I take this opportunity to share some of them with you:

An old Irish poem full of wisdom for 2020
(Kitty O'Meara 1839 – 1888 - Irish-French Catholic Author)

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

During this time of being isolated, our family has begun to catch up online by having a Zoom gathering on a Sunday evening. They are certainly learning new ways of being and when this is ‘over’ I wonder how much of their previous lives they might return to, or will they make new choices and dream new images and be healed.

Some of you will be aware of Pope Francis offering a prayer and blessing for the world (Urbi et Orbi) on 27 March in St Peter’s Basilica. He stood and sat under a canopy, on his own as the rain fell. Here are some of the words he spoke:

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our pre-packaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity…….

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters……

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

During that time of prayer Pope Francis prayed a Litany of Supplication: (https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/litany-supplication-urbi-et-orbi-pope-francis.html)

The following refrains were prayed as part of the Litany:

We adore you, O Lord

We believe in you, O Lord

Deliver us, O Lord

Save us, O Lord

Comfort us, O Lord

Grant us your Spirit, O Lord

Open us to hope, O Lord.

Perhaps some of these words will assist you with your prayers during the coming week, as we journey to the last moments of Jesus’ life, his death and ultimate rising to new life. The cross is our Christian sign, and we are frequently reminded in the words of Jesus, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23)

What does this ‘Sign of the Cross’ mean for us in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle at this point in our history? How will this ‘Sign’ assist our understanding of our call to renewal, and our capacity to move forward together. This is what we are being invited to ponder over this coming Holy Week. I invite you to make a spiritual retreat during the week. We have been given the opportunity to take a break from what usually takes up our time and to stop. As I said last week, we can make this time a Sabbath time, a sacred time, a holy time.

There are many resources to be found on our website under the COVID – 19 Provisions tile on the front page of our diocesan website https://www.mn.catholic.org.au/

As part of this. you will see a link to a daily Holy Week Retreat with Fr Richard Shortall SJ, who was with us as a Missionary of Mercy, travelling from community to community in a motorhome. I am hoping that some of you might like to reconnect with Fr Richard on:


I will join you as we experience Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday online in our homes. It will definitely be missing the incarnational flesh of each other, the stuff of our Eucharist.

A holy and prayerful Holy Week,

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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