This message, written on Sunday 4 April, is special to me in many ways – it is Easter Sunday, it is Allen and my wedding anniversary, and it is also our son’s 40th birthday. So much of this is about new life, new beginnings and about faith, hope and love. This is what Easter stands for and I am glad to have been brought up in a faith-filled Christian Catholic family which provided me with a meaningful life and a reason to serve.

I have just come home from the Sunday evening Mass at the Cathedral where once again the numbers increased. Evidently, people were turned away from the morning Mass because of the COVID restrictions. How lovely that Easter still holds meaning for many, who may not regularly attend Mass.

The ceremonies at the Cathedral over the weekend were very prayerful, and the baptism of an adult at the Easter Vigil added to its joy and meaning. I imagine that few of you would have heard the seven readings from the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Vigil Mass and I thought that in this message I would share with you one element of each of these readings. At the Cathedral each is read, and the associated psalm is sung. Of course, this adds significantly to the length of the Easter Vigil, but it is a way of hearing about God’s revealing love to the people who claim him as their own.

The readings were introduced with the following prayers:

"Dear brothers and sisters, now that we have begun our solemn Vigil, let us listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God. Let us meditate on how God in times past saved his people and in these, last days, has sent his Son as our Redeemer. Let us pray that our God may complete this paschal work of salvation by the fullness of redemption.

First Reading - Genesis 1:1 – 2:2

God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was good.

Second Reading – Genesis 22:1-18

…I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sands on the seashore.

Third Reading – Exodus 14: 15 – 15:1

Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

Fourth Reading – Isaiah 54:5 – 14lls be shaken, but my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken, says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Fifth Reading – Isaiah 55:1 – 11

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked man abandon his way, the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn his back to the Lord who will take pity on him, to our God who is rich and forgiving; for my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.

Sixth Reading – Baruch 3:9 -15, 32 – 44

Walk in the way of God and you will live in peace for ever.

Seventh Reading – Ezekiel 36: 16 – 28

I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead.

It was good to be able to sing the psalms, the Gloria and Alleluia after the great silence of the pandemic. We must continue to pray for an end to this pandemic which has killed almost 3 million people and continues to devastate many countries across the globe.

I hope some of the scripture quotes above continue to give you guidance for our diocesan synod which is now just over 50 days away.

I recently read the following words (passages 65 and 66) in the Instrumentum Laboris (Working Document) for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, which spoke to me of our synod process:

As we reflect on our pastoral reality and discern the “signs of the times”, the task ahead of us seems enormous, as we face challenging issues and difficult questions. But these also present enormous opportunities, as we are invited to renew our commitment to spreading the joy of the Gospel. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium: “Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always new.” (EG n. 11) …..While being conscious of the work to be done, we also have much to be thankful for. There are many signs of hope in that members of the faithful persevere with the practice of the faith, secularisation, disaffection and COVID – 19 notwithstanding, and are living their commitment to love of neighbour in myriad ways.

Christ’s invitation into deeper communion with the Trinity calls us to forge new paths. Moving toward a “civilisation of love”. With Christ as our abiding hope, the Church can inspire within our nation “greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems”. Emerging initiatives in the Catholic community are exploring more missionary approaches within the families, parishes, schools, religious life and practice, effective proclamation, digital mission and lived witness to the Gospel. These explorations, together with our commitment to Australian society and public engagement, will hopefully lead us to deeper personal conversion, renewal and reform of our institutions and a renewed fervour to spread the Good News.

I believe these passages speak of the hope we hold for our diocesan synod. I am grateful to those of you who have put in submissions to the five foundations contemplative dialogue Lenten reflections. The Synod Working Party will be communicating with you over these coming weeks, as we fine tune the process for our synod, which will be taking place in six locations around the diocese, all connected by the wonder of technology. As you can imagine, there are still many practical elements to attend to over the coming weeks.

Over this Easter Season, please pray for our minds and hearts to be enlightened.

Easter blessings to each of you.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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