The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed in the week between Ascension and Pentecost, was chosen by the Middle East Council of Churches “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship" (cf Matthew 2:2). More than ever, in these difficult times, we need a light that shines in the darkness and that light, Christians proclaim, has been manifested in Jesus Christ. During the week, I attended the Newcastle Lord Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast with about 200 other people from various Christian denominations. It was very moving to be in the room with so many people praying a blessing over the City of Newcastle and its leaders, in an attempt to build unity and to activate mission. The theme for the breakfast was hope, with talks, songs and prayers focused on this powerful theological virtue.
Apart from this gathering, I thought I would share with you some of the other opportunities that came my way through the week. Many of these events also focused on hope.
- Staff prayer for National Reconciliation Week
- Synod Working Party Reflection Day with Fr Richard Lennan
- Caritas Diocesan Directors Gathering in Sydney
- 40th Anniversary dinner of the Diocesan Federation of Parents and Friends
- Toronto Parish Pastoral Planning Morning
- Dying to Know event
The Dying to Know Day (D2KD) took place today (Sunday). It was a gathering of many groups who wish to foster deep conversations about death with a view of normalising it. I was really surprised as to how many groups are now providing education and care, about living well and dying well. By the end of the day of listening to people’s stories around death, with the view to destigmatizing it as part of life, I realised that in our contemporary world, with fewer people being connected to faith communities, groups are forming to provide support to individuals and their families, in what would have traditionally been the place of the church community. While I applaud their good works, I am left feeling sad that we may possibly lose this pastoral and spiritual connection with those who are struggling with the reality of the end of life and the care that is needed.
It was fortuitous that the following message was sent to me over the weekend. These words were written by Ronald Rolheiser: Pentecost Happened at A Meeting. I am sharing this with you because like you, sometimes I wonder what the purpose or outcome is of going to so many meetings and gatherings.
There are an endless variety of issues that call for our participation in group discussion and community discernment: church issues, education issues, justice issues, moral issues, political issues, social issues, economic issues, and cultural issues. It’s a bottomless well and all those meetings can seem like a huge waste of time and energy, a distraction to real work.
Moreover, at a point, we can’t help wondering too: “Are all these meetings changing anything? Would life be any different (other than more leisured and pleasant) if we stopped having all these meetings?” It’s easy to grow tired, discouraged, and cynical about all the meetings we’re asked to attend.
But we should keep something in mind: Pentecost happened at a meeting! One of the central events that shaped Christian history and history in general, happened not to an individual off praying alone or to a monk on a mountain-top or to a solitary Buddha meditating under a tree. Pentecost happened at meeting, and it happened to a community, to a church congregation assembled for prayer, to a family of faith gathered to wait for God’s guidance.
Moreover, it happened in a common room, a meeting room, in one of those humble, church basement type of rooms. It can be helpful to remember that. Our search for God should take us not just into private places of quiet and contemplation but, equally, into meeting rooms.
That can be helpful to keep in mind when we tire of meetings, despair of their effectiveness, or resent that they pull us away from important private endeavours. The fact that Pentecost happened at a meeting can also be helpful in keeping us focused on why we are going to all these meetings in the first place.
We need to continue to go to meetings, spending time together waiting for God, waiting for a new outflow of heavenly fire that will give us the courage, language, and power we need to make happen in the world what our faith and love envision.
See you at the meeting!
I thought that I would finish this week’s message with the Solemn Blessing of the Holy Spirit, prayed over us at the end of Mass. I pray this with you, for our world and for those who are preparing to go to the second session of our Plenary Council.
May God, the Father of lights,
who was pleased to enlighten the disciples’ minds
by the outpouring of the Spirit, the Paraclete,
grant you gladness by his blessing
and make you always abound with the gifts of the same Spirit.
May the wondrous flame that appeared above the disciples,
powerfully cleanse your hearts from every evil
and pervade them with its purifying light.
And may God, who has been pleased to unite many tongues
in the profession of one faith,
give you perseverance in that same faith
and, by believing, may you journey from hope to clear vision.
So, on this World Environment Day, with the theme, Only One Earth, may we live sustainably and in harmony with each other and with nature, I invite you to keep on keeping on, by listening to the call of the Spirit in your life.